Security has been tight in London since the 7th July 2005 tube bombings. It’s just gone ten o’clock on a Monday night in November and the temperature outside on London’s Holborn Viaduct is just about nudging 47°F; 8°C. While most Londoners are safely ensconced in their homes, warmed by central heating and mugs of tea, many probably fast asleep in anticipation of another week of work, RT has wrapped up as warmly as possible – two pairs of trousers and a rather fetching jacket/sweater combo if you’re interested – to be told that we have to clear the area. A suspect package has been found inside a building nearby and the bomb squad are on the way.
Of course our first instinct is to wonder if this is some kind of elaborate rewrite. We’re on the set of Three and Out, a new British film from first-time movie director Jonathan Gershfield, and we had been expecting to see actor Colm Meaney attempt suicide by leaping from the bridge. For the purposes of the film, of course. Instead, producer Wayne Marc Godfrey sweeps past us and delivers some bad news. “It just keeps going wrong tonight,” he opines, “first the crane wasn’t working and now we’ve been told to shut down by the police while they check the package out.”
And so everything stops. Giant stadium lighting in front and behind the bridge is switched off, the 30-foot crane that had been performing acrobatics around us is lowered and wheeled to safety, and a sullen crew loads into minibuses to be taken to the production’s base for lunch, which, at 11 o’clock at night, should really be called dinner.
Of course, it could have been so much more complex… A night before our visit the production was filming in the bowels of Charing Cross Underground Station and, Godfrey says, everything ran perfectly smoothly.
The connection here is that the film’s lead, Mackenzie Crook, is a tube driver. “I play a want-to-be novelist who’s working as tube driver,” Crook corrects as we pull him aside while the bomb squad is doing their thing. “In the space of the month he has two people fall under his train, and his co-workers tell him that if it happens a third time before the month is over he’ll be retired with ten years’ wages. He sees it as a way of getting out of his rut and getting on with his writing.”
“So he hears on the radio that Holborn Viaduct is a suicide hotspot,” interjects co-star Meaney, “and while he’s out looking for a jumper to ‘save’ he meets my character, Tommy, preparing to jump. That’s what we’re shooting today, or what we’re trying to shoot; our first meeting.”
Four months later and we’re in a small London screening room for the film’s first unspooling. Gershfield wanders to the front and introduces the film before taking his seat and no-doubt nervously wondering about the audience’s reaction, though if he’s nervous it doesn’t show. What unspools is something decidedly more hopeful than the black comedy we appeared to be witnessing in November. Despite the premise – suicide as comedy – Three and Out goes to lengths to find sensitivity.
Rounding off the cast, though not on set when we visited, Harry Potter star Imelda Staunton plays Meaney’s estranged wife and new Bond girl Gemma Arterton his even more estranged daughter. After meeting Meaney’s character Tommy at Holborn Viaduct and getting him to agree to his plan, Crook’s Paul agrees to go on a pilgrimage with him to the Lake District to make amends with his family before the deed is done.
“It’s a brilliant, brilliant script,” Arterton told RT when we sat down with her after the shoot. “It’s quite Little Miss Sunshine-esque. I play Colm Meaney’s character’s daughter that he abandoned when she was fourteen. She’s a Liverpudlian punk called Frankie who ends up falling in love with Mackenzie’s character. It’s a comedy but she’s the emotional heart of the story, I suppose, with her mum, who’s Imelda Staunton.”
“This is just a wonderful story,” says Meaney. “The writing is very good and the characters are really beautifully complex. There are no caricatures; they’re all wonderfully three-dimensional. It’s also very emotional – the balance is there in the script – it literally makes you laugh and makes you cry and that’s pretty rare.”
Agrees Crook, “It is a black comedy, but while the subject matter sounds quite downbeat it’s not a downbeat movie.”
For the former star of The Office, getting to play someone who wasn’t a complete carbon copy of his character Gareth had its attractions too. “A lot of the characters I get sent are very much in the Gareth mould and I get put up for a lot of those Territorial Army characters and the ones that stand out for me are the ones that aren’t the obvious characters. This guy, Paul, is perhaps not as nosey as I usually play, but he’s no action hero either!”
Three and Out is released in UK cinemas this weekend.