I watched Eastern Promises last night, David Cronenberg's film about the Russian mafia in London. It's generally excellent, with good performances from Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts and a strong script from Steven Knight, who wrote Dirty Pretty Things - another good film about the hidden side of immigrant London.
However, one moment in Eastern Promises jarred horribly for me. One of the characters is returning from a match between Arsenal and Chelsea. As he wanders through the crowd he chants Arsenal's name, baiting the Chelsea fans. The names of both clubs are mentioned clearly and yet all the supporters are wearing weirdly generic clothing instead of anything official from either club. The 'Chelsea' supporters wear plain blue shirts, a little darker than Chelsea's actual shirts, while the 'Arsenal' fans wear plain red shirts and strange stripey scarves.
You can see what I mean in this clip, though be warned that it ends with some graphic violence and spoils a minor plot point if you haven't seen the film.
Was this done for licensing reasons? Do you need to pay Arsenal if one of your characters wears their shirt? I can't imagine why. I also find it hard to believe that the decision was made to protect the reputations of the fans concerned. It's obvious in the context of the film that the characters portrayed are gangsters rather than football supporters. The only explanation I can think of is cost: it's pretty expensive to kit out a few hundred extras in replica football shirts and scarves.
Whatever the reason, it's a bad decision. On the DVD extras much is made of the authenticity of the film. We are told, for example, that the tattoos the mobsters wear were meticulously researched. So why make such a strange gaffe with the football supporters? I can only assume Cronenberg was thinking of his American audience, knowing they wouldn't notice but, for a British viewer with a modicum of football knowledge, the scene ruins the suspension of disbelief.