Marek is a lonely teenager from Poland living with his father in a small flat in south-central London’s Somers Town area.
Marek’s father is a construction worker who spends his days laboring and his nights drinking with fellow Polish immigrants. In between, he and his son, who cooks dinner, bond over the exchange of their burgeoning grasp of English, largely via swear words and a sex advice column.
Graham is a cheery, roly-poly neighbor with a storeroom full of shadily obtained merchandise. Seeing Marek enter the low-income housing complex in a Manchester jersey, he pulls the boy aside. “I see you got this lovely Man United shirt on,” Graham scolds the misguided youth. “I want to give you something better.” He hands over a plastic-wrapped top. “Arsenal! Champions!” He implores Marek to put it on immediately, as it may save the kid’s life.
Tomo is a teen runaway from the English Midlands who arrives at the nearby train station. He connects easily with adults on the subway (a woman with whom he shares a seat) and on the street (a man who buys him beer). He is not so lucky with kids his own age.
Tomo and Marek meet at a café, where Tomo playfully steals Marek’s freshly developed photographs (his only personal link to this strange, new city). The shots are mostly of Maria, a French waitress who works at the café.
The boys’ meeting comes the day after Tomo is beaten and robbed of his few possessions. Marek, thinking Tomo is stealing from him, offers Tomo his watch and backpack. Tomo is dumbfounded; he was just joking. Tomo returns the photos.
The two form an awkward friendship based on mutual alienation and loneliness. And a longing for the pretty, exotic Maria. They discuss her status as a potential girlfriend while sitting in the shade of a tree that presides over an old churchyard where Thomas Hardy is said to have moved gravestones in his days as an architect’s clerk. (Somers Town was also home for a time to Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens and Arthur Rimbaud, although Marek and Tomo likely don’t know this; they are busy writing their own story.)
Marek hides the homeless Tomo in his bedroom, out of sight of his short-fuse father. This works until Marek feeds Tomo too many spicy Polish foods, and Tomo requires the restroom with a sensation beyond urgency.
A pen explodes while washing Tomo’s track suit, ruining the only clothes he has. A stolen laundry bag contains just the dated, oversized garments of an adult woman and an older man.
“They’re retro,” Marek reassures Tomo, holding up a pair of suspendered trousers.
“They’re not retro,” snaps Tomo, with the fashion-consciousness of a teenager (even one who has no other options), “they’re ridiculous.”
As Marek stands on the balcony, Tomo emerges in a tightly wrapped robe and admits defeat. He makes Marek promise not to laugh.
“You look great,” Marek tells Tomo, who is clad in a flower-print dress tucked into checkered pants.
“I look like a female golfer,” Tomo replies.
Marek laughs despite his vow.
In a lovely, free-wheeling scene (set to an equally lovely, free-wheeling soundtrack by British folk musician Gavin Clark) the boys roll Maria home in an abandoned wheelchair through the hardscrabble neighborhoods of working-class London from her job at the café where they met. She tells them it is the best time she’s had since moving to the city.
“Remember,” she says, after giving them each a kiss on the cheek, “I love you both the same.”
Flush with romance, Marek and Tomo sell the excess stolen clothing to Graham, who bids down their asking price (as much for lack of want as for waking him up at 7 a.m.—“the middle of the night”). The boys splurge, stocking the wheelchair with bread, fruit and wine, and return to the café.
Maria has gone home to France, the owner tells them. But, he adds, there will be another pretty waitress working there tomorrow. It doesn’t matter; she won’t be Maria.
The boys sit on spring-based rocking horses at a playground, passing the wine back and forth. Tomo laments Maria’s loss. Marek tells him to stop being a baby. “It’s called love, son,” Tomo says with the knowing incredulity of a teenager feeling it for the first time.
The bender continues at Marek’s apartment until his father returns home. Angry, he kicks Tomo out and yells at his son.
“I’m sorry I screwed up our life,” father tells son the following morning. Marek knows, even if he doesn’t yet understand why.
Marek and Tomo meet on the apartment deck, looking at the station from which Tomo and, presumably, Marek both arrived. Maybe they could take a weekend trip, Tomo suggests; perhaps to Paris, where they could find Maria. It shouldn’t be hard to track down someone of her singular beauty, after all. Marek promises to ask his father for train tickets.
Suddenly, the City of Light. The Eiffel Tower. Croissants. Berets. Maria. Smiles. Embraces. Like old friends. All in a glorious burst to vibrant Super 8 from crisp, digital black-and-white.
Is it real? Is it a dream?
Somers Town is about that ephemeral moment in life when those two states seem to exist as one.