Writers: Sean Cronin, Paul Hodgson and Tony Waddington
Director: Sean Cronin
Paul Hodgson contracted meningococcal meningitis as a baby and he wasn’t expected to reach his sixth birthday. He is now in his late 50s and one of the writers of Give Them Wings, a new independent film that focuses on his early 20s, and his fraught relationships with his parents. As the title suggests, Sean Cronin’s film is ultimately a feel-good movie about a man overcoming his challenges, but along the way the journey is surprisingly dark.
To underscore Paul’s troubles in the late 1980s, Cronin’s interiors are always gloomy. The family home where Paul lives with his mother and father is in perpetual dusk, the curtains forever drawn against the bright Darlington sun outside. His house is cramped, too, and there’s hardly enough room for his wheelchair. The film starts in the kitchen with his father (Bill Fellows) announcing that because of the pain in his back he will have to take time off work. The family has little money and Paul’s mother (Toyah Willcox) berates her husband for what she sees as fecklessness. Paul is even more determined to get a job.
He applies for many jobs and in return gets many rejection letters. His unsympathetic father tells him that he shouldn’t bother, that no employer would want Paul in his chair and the problems he faces when speaking. But perseverance pays off and he gets a position in the civil service, and he moves into a council house, with his mother joining him as his carer, happy to have left her husband.
This new house, like his old one, is full of shadows, and so are the pubs that Paul goes to with his friends. Paul is proud that he can hold his drink as well as his friends. Their love of Darlington FC brings them together. It’s after one of his drinking sprees that he comes home to find his mother on the floor, the consequence of a severe stroke. How will mother and son cope in this new situation?
As Paul, non-disabled actor Daniel Watson is lively, funny and engaging. Paul’s self-deprecating humour is endearing, and his resolve, and the times when he loses that resolve, are all handled sensitively by Watson, but there are bound to be questions about why a disabled actor wasn’t cast in the role. Toyah Willcox surprises as his mother, and her hardworking and phlegmatic character seems a million miles from her first roles like Monkey in Quadrophenia or Mad in Derek Jarman’s Jubilee.
Working on a small budget, Cronin’s film does feel like a TV drama, and perhaps this would be its best home. However, despite limited funds the end of the Give Them Wings is a fine finale, and it’s refreshing to be out in the open air after so many scenes shot in the gloom. The end may resemble an episode from the long-running sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, but it’s very hard not to be moved by the preposterous and yet humble way the film ties up all its loose ends.
Give Them Wings is available from 1 August 2022.