Talk about making life difficult for yourself. At a time when less than half the movies being made in Britain actually make it onto a cinema screen, all UK-based film-makers would be well advised to obey a few simple rules. Get at least one marketable name in your feature. Steer clear of niche subjects such as football. Avoid politics like the plague. And so Mark Herman's latest stars Chris Beattie and Greg McLane as a couple of Geordie lads whose means of escape from economic hardship is dreaming of owning season tickets to Newcastle Football Club. Uh-oh...
But even with the odds stacked against him, Herman scores a winner. The likeable young leads instantly win the audience's sympathy and the balance of comic japes and social comment is perfectly judged.
In fact, following on from Brassed Off and Little Voice, Purely Belter could see Herman overtake Ken Loach as king of the politically-minded British comedy. Herman's depiction of poverty is just as hard-hitting and heartfelt as in Raining Stones or My Name Is Joe, but while Loach's films simply play to the converted, Herman's blend together broad comedy, lovable rascals and social critique to get out of the arthouse into the multiplex.
In this case, the football scenario works in the film's favour. Being part of the Toon Army is near compulsory in Newcastle, so the lads' desperation for season tickets becomes their working-class Holy Grail. Their scams provide plenty of comedy, but Herman is also saying that, in these days of satellite TV saturation, the People's Game has been taken out of the hands - and pockets - of the people themselves.
And, underlining Purely Belter's populist credentials, England captain and Tyneside hero Alan Shearer pops up for a cameo - though his acting ability is best left to the opposition penalty box...
A sparky Brit-com that laughs in the face of those grim-oop-North clichés, Purely Belter deftly juggles a real sense of fun and serious social concerns. The Full Monty with nippers, rather than strippers.