TRUE North could be mistaken for a Ken Loach film, given its socially concerned themes and hard-edged treatment, and the presence of its three principal actors. Peter Mullan made his film debut in Loach's Riff Raff and later worked with him on My Name Is Joe. Martin Compston was a schoolboy when Loach gave him the lead in Sweet Sixteen. And Gary Lewis has been in three Loach movies, most recently Ae Fond Kiss.
In True North, Lewis plays the unnamed owner of a Scottish fishing trawler. Faced with losing his boat to the bank, he has left financial responsibility to his son Sean (Compston). They are joined onboard by deckhand and avid porn viewer Riley (Mullan) and their slow- witted cook (Steven Robertson).
When they arrive in Ostend after another poor catch, Sean accepts a lucrative offer to smuggle 20 Chinese immigrants on the journey home to Scotland. Riley willingly abets him, but Sean is too ashamed to tell his father about the human cargo hidden in the hold. In their determination to land enough fish to convince UK customs, they take a detour towards Greenland and into the path of a storm that threatens the lives of all aboard the trawler, which is ironically named Providence.
Most recently employed as the director of the now-running BBC costume drama Cranford, former actor Steve Hudson makes an auspicious feature debut as writer-director with True North. His screenplay was inspired by the horrific fate of 58 illegal Chinese immigrants who suffocated inside a container truck on a sailing from Rotterdam to Dover in 2000.
Pulling no punches, Hudson tackles the issues raised by the script, and their complicated morality, with an admirable directness and toughness in a bleak picture that vividly captures the fear and desperation of the immigrants.
The drama gains in urgency from the performances. Compston is particularly impressive, while Angel Li, who is from China and now lives in Co Wicklow, is expressively affecting as the hungry 11-year-old immigrant girl resourcefully seeking out food on the trawler.
True North, which is an Irish-German-UK co-production, was shot (under the title Dragnet) off the eastern and southern coasts of Ireland.