Release date: March 14th 2011
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 98 minutes
Year of production: 1987
Director: Ron Peck
Cast: Ray McAnally, Cathryn Harrison, Martin Landau, Ian Sears, Lorcan Cranitch, Lee Drysdale, Emily Bolton, Jason Hoganson
Looking at London Docklands now it’s hard to imagine a time when there was nothing there. The former shipping port had been thriving since Roman times but was levelled during the Blitz when over 2,500 bombs were dropped.
After the war and with much rebuilding, the docks were able to be used again but by the 1960’s the shipping industry was moving to deep water ports such as Tilbury and Felixstowe where larger vessels could bring in more cargo.
By the 1980’s the area was a bleak landscape but there were already plans to redevelop it and soon its new name, London Docklands, was on everyone’s lips.
Empire State is set around this time when young urban professionals (“yuppies”) were buying up properties in the area and the new business district was still just a blueprint. It’s a story features multiple plots and characters whose lives all criss-cross at the ‘Empire State’ nightclub, run by powerful East End boss Frank (Ray McAnally).
It all begins early one morning with a car crash. From there we travel back 24 hours earlier where we meet glamorous Cheryl (Elizabeth Hickling) and her luckless boyfriend Danny (Jamie Foreman), busy planning a robbery. Elsewhere, shoulder-padded Paul (Ian Sears) is getting his partners ready for a business meeting with American businessman (Martin Landau), they’re keen to get him to invest in a project. Pete (Jason Hoganson ), a young lad, arrives in London looking for his best friend who’s gone missing but he’s picked up instead by charming rent boy Johnny (Lee Drysdale). There’s also a reporter working on a story about the nightclub and an office girl who’s got a blind date there later that night.
That’s quite a lot of characters and storylines to handle in one movie, but Empire State manages it very well. As the day moves into night we’re drawn into each of their lives and although they’re all quite different, they have one thing in common – they want to escape.
I was quite taken with Johnny, the cheeky rent boy. He’s always got a smile on his face and a plan up his sleeve and even though earning his bread and butter means having to spread his buns, he takes it all in his stride, yet he’s desperate to find a place where life is better.
In many ways Empire State is a commentary on Thatcher’s Britain and presents a look at how local communities were left out in the cold. For the Docklands area this meant that those buying up properties to build businesses were exempt from property taxes and received capital allowances, but also with the development of luxury apartments, there would be no place left for affordable housing. This created a sharp contrast between the two communities, making the poorer side seem more like a slum in years to come while the business district grew into a bustling metropolis.
Empire State also treats us to rare and vintage views of 80’s London. Tower flats, disused shipping docks, office blocks, retro computers and the Empire State nightclub complete with its neon signs, spinning lights and music by New Order, Yello and Jimmy Sommerville make it a great trip down memory lane.
What I also enjoyed about the film is its depiction of homosexuality in a very matter-of-fact way. It’s there, nobody cares and I liked that. The characters are never reduced to stereotypes and even though I never “rented”, I still found something in Johnny I could relate to; that overwhelming need to escape London.
Clubland thrillers have never been among my favourites, but Empire State is something very different. It’s got a great script, visually it’s very bold, its characters are fascinating and it works its way towards a climax which is very entertaining. Even if it does leave a few questions unanswered at the end, at least we can hope Johnny found a better place in the end.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .