Director: David Leon
Starring: Stephen Graham, Michael Smiley & Christopher Fairbank
Synopsis: When Benjamin, a young Orthodox Jewish boy takes up boxing for self-defence after years of bullying, he begins to become alienated from his devoutly religious community.
Rating: 18 Duration: 100 minutes Release date: 16 May (UK)
There’s a thing that strikes you about Orthodox early on. Despite its two very good leads, Stephen Graham and Michael Smiley, there’s a sense that there’s a good film lurking in here somewhere but it never escapes the feeling of a made for TV film albeit a dark and gritty Channel 4 one pandering to the hipster crowd out there.
Ben (Graham) grows up being bullied and beaten as a young Jew in an unnamed English city. He constantly struggles against other young boys who, no doubt, pick on him because he is different and has silly hair. That is until he comes across boxing. A sport derided in the Jewish community, but one that young Ben finds he has a natural gift for especially as he has spent his young life fighting.
Falling in with local criminal Shannon (Smiley) sets Ben on a road he may not easily escape from and one that may be more suited to his natural fighting talents than that of his day job in the family butchers. Ben’s struggles continue further when he marries a non-Jewish girl Alice (Rebecca Callard) and takes a job offer from Shannon that results in some life changing events.
Orthodox is a very moody film. Barely is a smile broken or a laugh had and the overall tone is extremely glum. It’s a meaty story and one that hits very hard at times. Orthodox does its best to showcase the seedier side of Jewish life in England. Ran more like a criminal organisation, the sense of community here feels like something you dare not cross and one that sets a tone of looking after each other but never daring to break the mould.
Stephen Graham and Michael Smiley really hold the film together. Their relationship feels legitimate yet there is a sense that despite the intense loyalty they share that the fear of one double crossing the other never seems far away. It’s this tension between the two that really gives the film an edge and makes the ending all the more tragic.
As gritty as it is, some issues feel forced and at times the supporting cast fail to really help take the burden away from Graham and Smiley. Despite the lead actors best efforts Orthodox can’t escape being a film that runs out of ideas early on and was perhaps best suited to its original form as a short film.
Cast and crew interviews.