Quicker than a swirl of a lightsaber, the country has embraced the Dark Side. The hotly anticipated Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens has opened with gross earnings estimated to reach £1.3 billion. So on the weekend of the film’s release, I duly went out to the cinema – but not to see the fate of Han Solo – I went to see the heart-warming Hector, a film about a Glaswegian homeless man.
Hector is the directorial debut of Jake Gavin, known more for his photography skills. But on this showing, a bright film career beckons.
The film has already been hailed by some as the best Christmas movie this season. And this is a film that makes you count your blessings and instills a will to help those less fortunate than yourself. It’s not a shiny, sugary sweet fairytale but a story with a sharp gritty realism and grim settings.
We follow Hector’s journey, and he’s sensitively and expertly played by Peter Mullan. The Glaswegian actor is known for playing some down-right nasty characters. I only saw him in Sunset Song, just a few nights previous – where he was Chris Guthrie’s brutal father, a heinous hateful man with a heart full of demons. But here as Hector, Mullan shows an understanding and a softer touch. With a worn face, grey beard and with sometimes twinkly blue eyes, I would actually like to see him play a modern day Father Christmas in some kind of alternative festive story. But as Hector, he’s a man who’s been dealt a hard hand from life, and his back story unravels during his journey from Glasgow to a London homeless shelter to attend an annual Christmas dinner.
The film is a stark reminder that for some people life cruelly snatches away those things we hold dear, and the phrase “there but for the grace of god, go I” springs to mind.
Hector and two of his homeless friends, joined by a dog called Braveheart, are sleeping where they can, in doorways, in toilets and under cardboard. There’s the everyday practicalities of being homeless, trying to keep clean, keep charge of your worldly possessions (thugs mug Hector and try to steal from him), and get access to medical help.
Then we join Hector on his journey. He’s suffering from ill-health, limping and using medication to keep pain at bay. There’s lots of motorway shots, as he hitches lifts, and we see the kindness of strangers. The high-vis jackets that “fall off the back of a lorry” and into the hands of the homeless, the church who gives him shelter and the cafes who feed him.
There’s the down points, as Hector tries to reconcile with his estranged family, after he “gave up on life” and disappeared for 15 years, and there’s also the fate and desperation of his homeless friends, Dougie played by Laurie Ventry and the young 18-year-old Hazel, played by Natalie Gavin.
When he gets to the London shelter we meet Sara, who works there, played by Sarah Solemani. She appears like an angel, a wonderfully kind, non-judgemental and humane character.
At the shelter we see various sides of homelessness, from the young boy, to a drop-out priest and an injured soldier, to the chancer-like Jimbo – played by Keith Allen – who turns in a good job in this role.
We don’t know their back story, but we still wonder what led them to where they are, and what their fate will be.
The men are treated with care and respect and receive the things we take for granted. Hot water, clean clothes, a bed and a hot meal. And I defy the hardest heart not to break down when a male choir sings a rendition of Abide with Me, to the men who sit quietly with their own thoughts.
This is a sensitively put together film which puts the plight of homelessness to the fore and challenges some perhaps pre-conceived perceptions.
It will also make you want to help others and I hope it leads to some charities receiving more help. There’s lots of great organisations around the country.
The Christmas appeal from Glasgow City Mission has the tagline “Love Changes Everything” and you can donate £7 to give a homeless person a Christmas meal, while £22 will feed and support a homeless person for a month.
Social Bite is a great social enterprise café who help homeless people. Read more about them here – Social Bite
and there’s still time to buy into the Social Bite Itison deal, it runs until 22nd December. Donate £5 to help feed a homeless person at Christmas and also help refugees in Europe.
I also love the good work of the Rucksack Project, where the Glasgow arm of this is organised by Lorna McLean. Thousands of rucksacks have been donated and delivered to help those in need.
If only we could brandish a lightsaber and solve the world’s problems, in this universe and in any universe, no-one should be sleeping on the streets.
Peter Mullan interviewed by The Independent had this to say:
Your new film ‘Hector’ was out last week; ‘Star Wars’ was out this Thursday. That’s big competition. Why should we see ‘Hector’?
When it started off, Star Wars was about the little people taking on the Death Star and now it is the Death Star. So go and see little independent movies in protest against the Death Star. If you really want to help Luke Skywalker, go see Hector.
Read the full interview here: Peter Mullan interview – The Independent