When it comes to the world of celluloid, London town has often been romanticised as a place where the streets are paved with gold and where people all speak suspiciously like Hugh Grant.
To say that Sugarhouse is light years away from this would be gross understatement. This low budget thriller from Gary Love (his debut feature following several successful television dramas) models life in the capital as grey and miserable, from the opening sequence on London’s District Line on a dour winter’s day, through to the deserted and eerie alleys and estates where most of the action happens.
Ashley Walters plays D, a heroin addict living on the streets and doing all he can to find his next hit. He meets Tom (Steven Mackintosh) at a caf, where it’s soon established that although the two are clearly not friends, D has something that Tom wants. Meanwhile local drug dealer ‘Hoodwink’ (played brilliantly by a bald-headed, almost unrecognisable Andy Serkis) has been robbed of his treasured firearm and is out for revenge. Faced with the challenge to both protect his pregnant wife and secure his own home, he holds a lust for retribution that is both believable and genuinely terrifying.
The script for Sugarhouse doesn’t go far to justify itself: D’s hostility to the world and resignation to his own plight are blamed squarely on parental abandonment suffered at an early age. The focus instead stays on the difficult dialogue between him and “rich man” Tom, someone who he sees as living in “another world”.
While this makes for tight drama, the contrived set-up that brings them together is shot-through with clich. The predictable revelation of D’s insincere intentions towards Tom is hardly a twist.
Walters’ last role (in 2005’s Bullet Boy) displayed an impressive performance of the ‘bad guy turned good’, attempting to steer his younger brother away from the so-called glamorous world of violence, particularly that of gun-crime. It was an impressive work, but if Walters is doomed for similar ‘down & out’ roles, this would be unfortunate: a strong and engaging actor, he needs more to get his teeth into.
Redemption comes in the form of Serkis’ brilliant drug dealing, violence-craving, all-round maniac. One scene where he and D meet in an abandoned warehouse is particularly nerve-jangling. The character of the bad guy only out for himself has been done to death, but Serkis’ extraordinary performance is still enough to carry the thin plotting.
Sugarhouse a claustrophobic and intense watch, with rarely anyone beyond the three main characters seen on screen (a testament to the script’s origins as a stage-play). But there’s no new ground is broken here, and while this would serve as watchable living-room viewing, it’s unlikely to bother any BAFTA judges come awards season.