Monologue as a form is often looked down upon within the world of film and TV as anti-visual, driven by the cardinal sin of exposition. Show, don’t tell! goes the rulebook, and for good reason. However, when you are working within a short format without compromising depth of character, it can work perfectly. When done right, there is nothing finer. James Price’s short film The Taking of Balgrayhill Street is a perfect example of this, released in March as part of BBC Four’s series of shorts, Skint.
Price’s story centres on Donny (Peter Mullan), a Glaswegian man around retirement age, settling in to watch his favourite show, Miami Vice. However, the run-up to this evening ritual is rudely affected by a knock at the door; a charity rep has come to inform him that there is a communal food parcel in the foyer of his housing block. All we see is the silhouette of the intruder, and Donny ventriloquises their exchange. Following this, every supporting member moves silently through the scheme, nose pressed up against glass, as Donny impersonates them. This is not only funny, but allows Mullan to show off his range and incredible delivery.
We are given the privileged position of having Donny speak directly to us, in on the joke, as he mercilessly mimics and slags off his neighbours. As the story develops, we better understand Donny’s actions are symptoms of softcore paranoia. This isn’t quite tinfoil hat ‘Biden is a cyborg’ type stuff; instead, it’s more the ‘wear a balaclava to visit the communal pantry so you aren’t spotted stealing free food’ kind of paranoia. Whilst we watch Donny project onto his neighbours, we understand his narration comes not from a place of nastiness, but rather from someone whose sense of masculinity, pride, and self-esteem is under constant threat from poverty. The anxiety that comes with being skint bleeds into everything; the simplest of decisions easily become a Rubik’s Cube of existential questioning. Price represents this in a way that not only rings true, but is funny as hell.
This is Price’s first monologue short, and it stands in good company alongside his other work that explores flawed but lovable paternal figures. For more, check out Boys Night, which won the audience vote at Glasgow Film Festival 2020. You can catch Skint on BBC iPlayer, and if you feel yourself developing a thirst for monologue from the small screen, check out the incredible A Sense of History, directed by Mike Leigh and starring Jim Broadbent.
Watch The Taking of Balgrayhill Street here