Men who sleep in cars: new Maxine Peake film tackles Manchester’s homelessness problem

Maxine Peake as Sarah Pic Jack Leigh BBC
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We’ve all walked past people begging for change, pretended to be on the phone so we won’t be stopped by charity workers, ignored Costa cups that people shake near our faces. It isn’t that we’re bad people – we’re just busy, and if everyone stopped for every single homeless person holding up a sign nothing would ever get done.

The problem of homelessness has become so widespread that many of us have become immune to it, reaching a point where it’s easier to write these people off as scruffy inconveniences instead of living, breathing human beings with lives and problems just as difficult as our own.

Some of us even get angry that these people have the cheek to ask for the money that we’ve worked for, forgetting for a moment that these people would like nothing more than the warm home that you’re going back to.

Mancunian poet Michael Symmons Roberts has used his latest project to give a voice to those forced to sleep in cars across the country.

Men Who Sleep in Cars is a film that’s as heart-breaking as it is innovative, a uniquely Mancunian story that is at once a love letter and a cry for help

Cesare Taurasi as Antonio Pic Jack Leigh BBC

Antonio is a telesales worker with a troubled past, desperate to pay off his debts so he can finally afford his own apartment.

Marley is a labourer, a man rapidly reaching middle-age and desperately trying to keep his family whole. Living in a time and an industry where unskilled labour work is harder and harder to come by, he spends his hours busking on St Peter’s Square for pennies.

McCullock is an ex-cop, ex-businessman and current alcoholic, haunted by the failures of his past and deluded by the failures of his present. Although he might sleep in a Mercedes, he’s homeless none the less.

Although each man is different and each story is unique, the film slowly picks its way backwards along their disparate threads toward the single moment when all three had once intersected.

By unpicking the choices that led them to homelessness, Michael Symmons Roberts allows us to realise that these people are not so different from each other – and perhaps not so different from ourselves.

From the opening scenes to the final credits, Men Who Sleep in Cars is Manchester through and through. Not only is it shot on location, allowing viewers to see their favourite haunts on a big screen, it also tackles Mancunian issues, and encourages us all to be more thoughtful tomorrow than we are today.

You can see it on BBC4 on Sunday 1 October 2017 at 9pm.

Men Who Sleep in Cars was commissioned for Contains Strong Language, the BBC’s new poetry and spoken word festival taking place in Hull from National Poetry Day, 28 September – 1 October 2017.

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