The sight of an old Ford and a red carpet outside Gala Theatre in Durham greeted Stephen Tompkinson and guests arriving on Monday night for the packed-out premiere of North East film Harrigan.
If the car and period-style cinema tickets helped set the scene for the crime drama then within minutes of its start we were fully immersed in an authentic seventies world - 1974 to be precise: a time of power cuts, the three-day working week, striking miners, dodgy fashion and, it turns out, violent yobs terrorising local estates.
Pitched back into this murky world is Tompkinson’s Detective Sergeant Harrigan, a man with a tragic past who returns from secondment in Hong Kong - having left us in no doubt what he’s capable of - to while away his few remaining weeks to retirement.
But, riled by complacent colleagues and a box-ticking police chief, he’s soon back on the streets, re-opening an old section house with the support of ex-cop pal Billy (Maurice Roëves) in the middle of a crime-ridden estate ruled by old enemy Dunstan.
Written by former policeman Arthur McKenzie, who worked our city streets in the sixties and seventies, this stylish debut feature by Newcastle-based TallTree Pictures links a series of storylines that feel uncomfortably real, although much of their violence is kept out of shot.
In Harrigan, Stockton-born Tompkinson gives us an interesting character: there’s a bit of ambiguity there but he’s the decent cop, a self-appointed protector of the single mum (a big-haired Amy Manson), fair in dealings with minor criminals and a calm negotiator in a domestic crisis (involving a dad played by towering former basketball star Ian Whyte) - but he’s a hard man when required.
The actor is convincing throughout so can carry off the occasional cliched phrase, along the lines of “that’s the starter, the main course comes next” after Harrigan makes his presence felt amongst thugs in a local pub.
His wry humour works well and I particularly liked the banter in the station scenes.
There, he enlists young Lau (Jamie Hayden) and Swift (the always-watchable Darren Morfitt) for his new team.
Directed by Vince Woods and filmed around Newcastle, Gateshead and Teesside, it’s always fun to spot familiar landmarks – and there’s a shot of an old police Ford crossing the Swing Bridge.
But here, set long before the region’s cultural renaissance, the reality is cold views of gangs in bleak side streets and meetings on wasteground.
But there are plenty familiar local faces among the cast, with good performances including Craig Conway as Dunstan, with head tattoos and one good eye, who takes the time to don a clown’s mask before dishing out the beatings.
One stand-out scene sees his club-wielding thug and accomplice kick in doors of an abandoned warehouse as they home in on a cowering snitch, set to the strains of Amazing Grace.
And the best: the unbearably tense scene when Harrigan’s team, having arrested a murderer, are trapped without backup in their section house by a baying mob led by Dunston. Then Harrigan steps out like a sheriff ready for the showdown at the OK Corral.
This was intended initially to be a TV series and you can see it working as one, with its multiple threads and future possibilities, such as in the fledgling romance with colleague Bridie (Gillian Kearney) and in-house war with lazy heavy-smoking colleague (Bill Fellows), always keen to bribe a con and manipulate a few statistics.
With so much work to do, let’s hope it’s not the last we see of Harrigan.
:: Harrigan is released on Friday throughout Tyneside and will screen as part of the Busan International Film Festival - Asia’s largest - in South Korea, in October.