Cockneys Vs Zombies (2012)

Review first published in S&S Oct 2012

Cockneys Vs Zombies

Synopsis: London’s East End, the present. A redevelopment site is threatening the nearby Bow Bells Care Home with closure, so in order to secure the future of their grandfather (and Bow Bells resident) Ray Macguire, brothers Terry and Andy attempt a bank robbery, helped by by their cousin Katy, friend Davey and weapons man Mental Mickey. Meanwhile, builders at the site open a plague pit sealed by Charles II in 1666, unleashing zombies. Fleeing the bank with the building firm’s money, and with bank manager Clive and client Emma as hostages, the five robbers find the East End overrun by zombies. Hiding out in a warehouse, Mickey is bitten on the arm, and eventually turns, before being killed with his own hand grenade. Armed with Mickey’s shotgun, Clive tries to regain control over his captors, but is overcome by zombies after shooting Davey. Terry, Andy and Katy decide to rescue Ray and his fellow residents from Bow Bells, with Emma now joining them. After rearming at Mickey’s lock-up and commandeering a double-decker bus for transport, the robbers find the elderly residents holed up in the Bow Bells kitchen. Now all armed, they fight their way out to the bus, and when it breaks down near the Docks, transfer to a moored boat. Realising that the boat is still chained to a bollard, Ray leaps ashore to untie it, and mows down the surrounding zombies, with help from his three younger relatives. All the survivors head downriver in the boat.

Review: Cockneys vs Zombies opens with a multi-layered locale in uneasy flux. Behind a billboard depicting a future idyll of gentrified apartments (“Luxurious living in the heart of East London”, reads the caption), we see a grim building site reminiscent of the bombed-out landscapes of the Second World War, while buried beneath is yet another stratum of apocalyptic history: a plague pit sealed by Charles II in 1666, and now belching forth its undead residents into a present trying to turn its back on the past. Likewise Ray Macguire (Alan Ford), a one-time hero of WWII (“Alright, let’s ‘ave it!”, he shouts in flashback, bloodily dispatching Nazis), now risks being moved on from his care home as the old, neglected neighbourhood succumbs to modernisation.

Here, as also in Keith Wright’s Harold’s Going Stiff (2011), the elderly, once the backbone of their community, have themselves become a kind of living dead – a point vividly (and hilariously) illustrated in a scene where ancient, deaf-as-a-post Hamish (Richard Briers) hobbles along on his Zimmer frame at exactly the same (ultra-slow) pace as the zombies shuffling after him. Like their flesh-eating counterparts, this old guard will rise again – helped by a younger generation of East Enders, embodied by Ray’s grandsons Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy (Harry Treadaway) and their cousin Katy (Michelle Ryan), all of whom are determined to carry on the district’s legacy of defiance and to prove that they too have “the Macguire genes”.

“You can get anything you went as long as you work hard, stick together as a family and do what’s right.” This is the Macguires’ increasingly unfashionable ethos, imparted (in flashback) to Terry and Andy  ironically enough just moments before their shotgun-toting parents are mowed down by the police surrounding their home. Like their whole community of chancers and straight-out criminals, the Macguires have seemingly always been beleaguered, and always come out fighting. Shrugging off the zombies as just one in a long series of impediments to urban contentment, Terry dismisses the gravity of this latest catastrophe with the words, “The East End’s been through worse.” Likewise Matthias Hoene’s film, a vibrant, affectionately self-mocking mash-up of zombie and gangster tropes (with some absurdly tortuous rhyming slang thrown in), presents serious issues of the here and now (the Tory abandonment of the nation’s poor, unemployed and elderly; the callous detachment of bankers from reality), but instead of merely leaving it to the Romero-style undead to allegorise these contemporary sociopolitical themes, Cockneys Vs Zombies also responds with comedy, as a mode both reflecting and embodying the tenacious grin-and-bear-it spirit of the Blitz.

Hoene, who previously revamped Hammer with his twenty-part serial Beyond the Rave (2008), here teams with writers James Moran (Severance) and Lucas Roche (Beyond the Rave‘s editor) for a second dose of undead vs. underclass. Perfectly setting the tone with the cartoon form of its opening credits, this is a broadly funny, leftist splatterfest where the downtrodden prevail, the war-time British values of community are reawakened, and the past lives on to forge a future more caring and inclusive than what is currently being billed.

Anton Bitel