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The James Gang

Release date: November 07, 1997
Directed by: Mike Barker
Written by: Stuart Hepburn
Produced by: Andrew Eaton
Running time: 95 minutes

Bernadette (Helen McCrory) packs her four children and travels from Edinburgh, Ireland to London to find her children's father, Spendlove sr. (John Hannah), who left them alone a while back. When she finds him, her brother-in-law Frank (Jason Flemying) offers Spendlove some money to return to Edinburgh with the family. But soon one night Bernadette unexpectedly robs a jewelry store and they have to head north, with an ambitious young cop, Julia Armstrong (Toni Collette), a young mother herself, on their tail.

Cast & Characters

John Hannah (Spendlove James), Helen McCrory (Bernadette James), Jason Flemyng (Frank James), Toni Collette (Julia Armstrong), Darren Brownlie (Spendlove Jr.), David Brownlie (Spendlove Jr.), Lauren McMurray (Geraldine James), Lauren McCracken (Jessica James), James Nesbitt (Graham Armstrong), Elaine Lordan (Simone), Brian Pettifer (Spanner), Caroline Berry (Bronwyn)

Production Notes

Spanner, a local Edinburgh loan shark, wants his money, but Bernadette doesn’t have it. Her good-for-nothing husband, Spendlove Senior, has run off with it to London. That night Spanner returns with a gasoline-filled milk bottle, pauses to light his cigarette, then tosses the flaming bottle into the house. The James family – 12-year-old Spendlove Junior, sisters Geraldine and Jessica – have a narrow escape. On a bus to London, Junior bemoans being named after his father. When they finally catch up with him in a karaoke bar, Junior’s opinion of his dad is amply confirmed. Instead of money, Bernadette is offered a drink and malign neglect. Bernadette’s options are limited. She disappears into a nearby jewellery shop and reappears pursued by an apoplectic jeweller. Spendlove Senior refuses to play Clyde to Bernadette’s Bonnie, but she is a firm believer in the dictum that the family that robs together stays together. The James Gang is born. From one “daring” job to another their reputation grows, the cops and the media hot on their trail.

“The James Gang” is rather female driven with the family matriarch being Bernadette, who crosses borders for her family’s well being, and also an ambitious detective, who has just become a mother, and who tries to understand Bernadette’s actions. Helen McCrory was cast as Bernadette, as producer Andrew Eaton explains: “From the moment she first came in to read for the part, she was the obvious choice. Helen isn’t Scottish, but she has proved in “Streetlife” that not only were accents not a problem to her, but she had tremendous power on screen. Her passion for Bernadette makes her dilemma completely believable, and her affection for the children in the film is heartbreaking.” Toni Collette was cast in the second central female character, the ambitious Detective Julia Armstrong, who returns to work shortly after becoming a mother herself.

When I read it, the story made me laugh and it made me cry. I had a gut response to it and a really positive feeling about it. It’s about desperation and parenthood, particularly motherhood and how far a mother will go to look after her kids. The character I play is very career-orientated. She goes straight back to work after having a baby, leaving her child with her husband, neither of whom she has much time for. During the course of her pursuit of Bernadette she has a moment of recognition that what Bernadette is doing is because she loves her kids and she learns from that about her own life. I also get to play a woman/woman rather than a girl/woman which I’ve mostly played before and I also liked that I’m not being forced to being funny. It doesn’t rely on me comedically. The comedy centers mostly on the other characters (Toni Collette, Production Notes)

Filming took place over 6 weeks on location in Wales and London in November/December 1996. Collette was plunged into the dephts of a British winter: “I was drinking daiquiris on the beach in Australia and didn’t want to leave, but I’ve had the surprise of my life because I love this job. Everyone’s doing it because they want to. There is such enthusiasm. I was on top of this mud slide in Wales and Andrew said I bet you wish you were still in Sydney and I said no, this is fantastic, I’m freezing, I’m sliding around in mud, and up to my knees in wellies and it’s great. For the first time I feel really free working with a director. Mike allows his actors a great deal of freedom.

“The James Gang” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 1997 and was also shown at film festivals in Montreal and Warshaw. The film received a limited theatrical release in the United States on November 07, 1997. A release in the United Kingdom followed in May 1998.