Concrete Plans (2020)

Concrete Plans first published by

Right from the start, it is clear that Concrete Plans, the feature debut from writer/director Will Jewell, is going to end in violence. For in the opening sequence, under the flicker of a faulty fluorescent light, we are shown impressionistic glimpses of a body or two, a bloody screwdriver on the floor, and an even bloodier drill on a table. This hint of what is to come introduces a tension on which Jewell will build and build as the film progresses, and we are slowly, carefully introduced to a powder keg situation, and left wondering just what will trigger the explosion that we already know is inevitable.

The film’s idyllic setting, in the remote mountains and lakes of the Welsh countryside, belies our knowledge of what will eventually happen. There, a five-man crew of builders has come to the family estate of ex-soldier Simon (Kevin Guthrie) to spend three months renovating several adjoining barns and outbuildings. Although the property is much larger than Simon and his girlfriend Amy (Amber Rose Revah) could ever need,  Simon still insists that the men live together away from the house, in a small, deteriorating portacabin without phone service, internet or a proper toilet. Simon’s condescending attitude, his imposition of near impossible working conditions and his repeated deferral of payment, all point towards a growing class conflict in the film, where abuse and arrogance are laying the foundations for intense resentment among the workers – even as their employer must contend with his own hidden financial difficulties.

The five come with their own inner tensions. Decent, jolly foreman and family man Bob Pearson (Steve Speirs) needs this job to keep his company afloat. He has brought along nephew Steve (Charley Palmer Rothwell) in the hope that some hard graft will turn the young lad from a path of feckless delinquency. Local Marxist old-timer Dave (William Thomas) is getting too long in the tooth for building site work. Openly racist Jim (Chris Reilly) is there to lie low after a recent violent crime in Hounslow. Ukrainian migrant Viktor (Goran Bogdan) toils hard in order to send his earnings to a daughter back home – but is being paid less than the others. 

Accordingly Concrete Plans sets up boundaries of race and age alongside class, and shows everyone succumbing to immense pressure on their different sides of these llines, until finally the anger erupts into the long-promised acts of aggression over one long night of chaos and cover-up. Once the tools – both sharp and blunt – come out, these different characters become seduced, locked, blackmailed or bullied into complicity with an unfolding plan from a man that none of them can trust, even as larger forces (with similar aims) operate invisibly in the background.

Formally Concrete Plans is a dark, Coen-esque thriller in which one bad action quickly leads to another, and everyone gets drawn into a downward spiral of venality and viciousness. At the same time, the film comes with a strong sociological dimension, offering an Orwellian farmyard microcosm of Britain, where criminals operate at all levels of society, but not all get away with it. Much as Dave likes to discourse on class iniquities and worker exploitation, this is a film preoccupied with labour and the movement of capital. Here all the builders are off book, Simon is avoiding inheritance tax, Viktor is an illegal immigrant, and everyone is chasing money that not everyone is willing to share. And so this twisty, character-driven clusterfuck reveals a dog-eat-dog nation at its most polarised and predatory – and a new filmmaker with real talent in his toolbox.

Summary: Will Jewell’s worksite thriller builds its tensions in exploitative conditions.

© Anton Bitel