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The Green Sea

Directed by Randal Plunkett

The beginning of this film, with the figure of a young girl drifting in a monochrome countryside through trees beside a long pool, all menace and sorrowfulness, put me immediately in mind of the opening moments of Don’t Look Now. Intentional? Whatever, it immediately set a mood of terrified melancholy and loss which hung around throughout, coming very much into focus far later when I had almost forgotten about it.

 Diivided into chapters like a book, the story comes slowly and piecemeal. We begin by meeting  protagonist Simone (Katharine Isabelle), a dislikeable, graceless, foul-mouthed drunk, off shopping for more vodka. Her car is falling to pieces, her house is scruffy and chaotic, contents half packed up, half spewed around the once elegant rooms. Gradually we discover more about her. That she was formerly a successful transatlantic rock musician known as Sim Chaos. That she is writing a book – her second, as it later turns out – but struggling badly with writer’s block and with considerable demons that are hinted at in dreams or memories.  Images of vicious arguments, bloodied hands, anguish, intermingle with softly lit excerpts of the book as she struggles to write it, where ill-intentioned men hunt an old factory for a girl. Something terrible has once happened to Simone, but whatever our suspicions we must wait a while to see quite what.

Soon into her life comes the enigmatic young woman (Hazel Doupe), seen earlier, whom she knocks down when returning at night from another drunken foray. Getting her home, she patches up her injuries and reluctantly allows her to stay for a while. What to make of this girl? At first she seems a possible alien, gingerly testing Simone’s proffered instant noodles (who can blame her?) and coffee, as if for the first time, and her wounds healing unnaturally swiftly. Yet she too is suffering dreams, where a group of young people stand immobile on sand dunes looking out to sea, and a sinister man with lined face and dark glasses fixes his eyes on her. But soon she becomes a normalizing presence, tidying and cleaning, acting like a sister to Simone, and taming the chaotic home. And as Simone warms to the girl, so we warm to Simone.

The two central performances are stunning. Katharine Isabelle excels as the troubled Simone, whether hiding or letting rip her emotions and vulnerabilities. But it’s Hazel Doupe as the girl who really impresses, that face made for the screen, so often impassive but flickering with the tiniest indications of thoughts and feelings, and, when it comes, one of the most warming smiles I’ve seen for a long time.  Uncertainty as to the genre we’re in here, supernatural, horror, thriller, psychodrama, adds to the feeling of trepidation engendered by the slow-moving exposition, which is perfectly judged so as never to quite lose or puzzle us too much. Is the girl there at all (does anyone else ever see her?).  Is she an alien wanderer, a  ghost, a spirit, a healing angel? Is Simone a murderer? What is the meaning of the dream on the dunes?

Randal Plunkett has taken many staples of standard film themes – the need for mothering, and to mother, disintegrating rock star, enigmatic beings, unopened boxes, mysterious chaps with dark glasses, and made something new out of them. Meditations on loss, renewal, even the creative process,  interconnect.

It’s a weakness of mine to always feel ever so slightly let down when a resolution comes, and I did have my usual teeter towards this at times towards the end, but the two performances, a strong script, and perhaps most of all Philipp Morozov’s disquieting, enthralling cinematography, make this a film to linger in the imagination.

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Cinema Made in Italy 2021 Part 3: Una Promessa (Spaccapietre)

Directed by Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serio

Salvatore Esposito makes an effective leap from the hateful and ruthless Gennaro of Sky’s Gomorrah to tender, powerless father in this striking feature film from the De Serio brothers. The twins have been making documentaries for many years, mostly centring on the poor, dispossessed, uprooted people of Southern Italy. Their new film, inspired by events in their own family’s past, and the recent story of the death of a woman in the fields of Puglia, sees this documentary realism developing into what reaches in its finale a tragedy of almost operatic proportions.

Esposito plays Giuseppe, father of a small boy Anto (Samuele Carrino), whose wife has been singlehandedly supporting the family by working long hours as cheap labour in the fields beyond the town, after Giuseppe lost his job as quarryman. A work accident there cost him an eye. Their modest, precariously happy life, full of love, comes to a thudding halt when she dies, overworked,  in the fields, and Giuseppe, apparently receiving no help from the state,  is forced to take on the work  himself, taking his little son along to live in the plastic shanty town that houses the poorest of the workers. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to those immigrants who make it in their leaky boats over the Mediterranean, well, here lots of them are. The brothers filmed in such a place, with many migrant workers as extras, as we are plunged into the dusty hard labour of low paid fruit and vegetable growing for the mere basics of life. Think of this next time you open a tin of Italian tomatoes.  

But it’s more than an almost unbearable look at a side of life in Europe today that we’d rather not think about. The farm owner is not merely a cruel master, employing heavies to keep control when tempers and despair among the workers boil over (the dead are shuffled away into unmarked holes in the ground), he’s a voyeur sadist who uses his workers as entertainment. Yet, collecting artifacts dug up from his farm in his ‘chapel’, and with his house full of costly artefacts and good taste, he’s a cultivated man. So much for western civilisation.

A bruising finale that is almost impossible, emotionally, to watch, sees a kind of resolution for Giuseppe, and an end, one way or another, to his nightmare. The original Italian title, Spaccapietre  (Stonebreaker) has for some reason become for international audiences Una Promessa (a promise), homing in on the promise Giuseppe makes to his son that he will see his mother again. We know it’s impossible. But the final moments of the film attempt to make it happen in a metaphysical way, which rather than providing comfort makes the darkness of the film and its bleak truth-telling hang more unshakeably on.

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Cinema Made in Italy 2021 Part 2: The Ties (Lacci); Thou Shalt Not Hate(Non odiare)

Two films in this selection could stand as powerful testimony to Larkin’s famous line ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad…’ Daniele Luchetti has made family tensions his speciality – My Brother is an Only Child; Those Happy Years; Our Life –  all in their different ways showing that domestic happiness doesn’t come easy, and home may not always be the best place to be.  In The Ties (Lacci) we at first seem to be in  the bosom of a perfect middle class family – handsome parents Aldo (Luigi lo Cascio) and Vanda (Alba Rohrwacher), small son and daughter, a trip to the carnival in fancy dress, a mellow walk home through evening streets, Dad’s bedtime story – but after a loaded spat in the kitchen,  we’re immediately plunged  into a positive feast of recrimination and damage, when Aldo, who works all week in Rome as a TV presenter to return home each weekend, confesses he’s having an affair with a colleague. You wouldn’t want to be married to either of them, and in the fight and reactions that follow our sympathy may sashay between the pair, but it’s mainly the kids we feel for.  The film drifts from present to past and back as we witness these two – he passive and full of weakness, she flamboyantly vindictive and self-pitying – at various stages of the relationship, the beginning, separating and coming together again. Alba Rohrwacher in particular makes the melodrama of Vanda a genuine passion, still real and painful in all its nastiness, and so beautiful throughout, for all her frowsy hair and grim expressions.   It culminates in the couple in more mellow old age, together, as we always expected, but still bickering, he still susceptible to young female charms, she pouncing as sharply as ever on his weaknesses. But the surprising conclusion brings into play something more raw, more physical than the elegiac ending we might be expecting, as we see things from another angle and the pair get a belated comeuppance.

Mauro Mancini’s Non odiare (Thou Shalt Not Hate) is a far more sombre, more painful portrait of damaged people. We meet Samuele first as a child in what seems an idyllic riverside setting, being forced to do something outlandishly cruel for a child, by his rational, unyielding father – ‘We all have to make decisions sometimes we don’t want to make’.  Next he’s a middle-aged man (Alessandro Gassman), rowing down that same river, when he hears the sound of a car crash on the road alongside. He finds a man severely injured and begins emergency assistance (he’s a doctor), but spots fascist tattoos on the man’s body, and freezes. Samuele is Jewish. He stops the treatment, and by the time help arrives, the man is dead.

Hereafter his life is governed by his guilt. He learns that the man, a prominent Fascist, left three children, of whom we soon learn that the teenage son is an ardent fascist too. Full of guilt, Samuele tries to help by employing the daughter, who’s left a good job in another city to look after her younger siblings, as a cleaner.

We also have a glimpse into Samuele’s relationship with his now dead father, whom he ceased contact with years ago and seems to have become some kind of fierce recluse, himself nursing guilt about his own deeds in the past. But  involvement in this family’s life, becoming close to the daughter, brings the enmity of the teenager, and their increasing money problems cause a situation where Samuele is able to make amends for his guilt at their father’s death. If the resolution is beginning to seem reassuring and maybe even too pat, a final scene at the father’s grave shocks us into seeing that a parent’s influence is never done, and the cycle may begin again. Shot in a gloomy palette of mostly indoor and night-time scenes, where faces are rarely happy and even the impressive countryside is a cold, shaded, place, it’s an admirably austere and thoughtful take on the burden of upbringing.

 Alessandro Gassman won a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival last year for his intense portrayal of Samuele.

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Cinema Made in Italy 2021 Part 1: Padrenostro (Our Father)

Directed by Claudio Noce

In Italy from the late 60s to the 80s, a time referred to  as the ‘Years of Lead’, extremist groups from both Right and Left carried out attacks on communities and public figures. One of the victims was the father of director Claudio Noce. Noce was in fact only a toddler at the time, but to portray a child’s trauma from those years he uses as his proxy the figure of Valerio (Mattia Garaci), a sensitive 10- year-old, with the ethereal looks of a self-doubting Tadzio. Valerio’s father Alfonso (Pierfrancesco Favino) is a kindly paterfamilias with an Important Job, the kind who, though loving, arrives late from work each night and is always going to take his son to the football next week. When early on Valerio picks up a camera his uncle has and unsteadily films the family, it’s a touching nod to his current intent, a portrait of his family and above all his beloved father.

But one night Valerio wakes to the sound of gunfire and from his apartment window witnesses an attempt on his father’s life –  mayhem , a dying man, pools of blood, and his father being hurriedly carried away. We don’t understand  much more than he does at this point – it’s not even clear at the outset whether Alfonso is  a member of the establishment or of the mafia, and it only when we watch the TV news along with Valerio that we learn he is in fact a high ranking policeman, and has been badly, though not fatally, wounded.  The terror for Valerio is doubled by the fact that, as was the way of those days, nothing is explained to him. Papa eventually comes home, recovered, but life has no security for Valerio, already a nervy boy who has an imaginary friend in the attic.

So when Christian (Francesco Gheghi), a floppy-haired  ragamuffin of a lad resembling a quattrocento angel, appears outside his apartment block garden wanting to join Valerio at football, and then leads him on a thrilling run around the city ( including pinching an offertory box from a church), we really don’t know if he’s real or not, but things are lightening up for Valerio. The tensions of the family lead Alfonso to decide to take an extended trip to Calabria where his family live and Valerio becomes more relaxed by the sea making little unaccompanied outings on his bike (shades of Non ho paura). Though there’s still the derelict house on the way to keep the tension up.  We’re already feeling nervous at these apparently foolhardy, unprotected activities, considering Alfonso is a target, and things move further into unreality when who should turn up but Christian , without explanation why or how. So, he’s imaginary? Well, no, because the family meet him too, and without question he’s accepted as ‘a friend’ (did Valerio seem the type of boy to have friends unknow to his family?).  So does he have sinister ulterior motives? More dreamlike things happen  – when it looks as if Alfonso is expecting to be ambushed he stops the car and wanders off into a beautiful wood that brings scarily to mind the assassination site in The Conformist. But it’s just a path to join a family  party on the beach.

Anyone looking for a political take on the events and the period will be disappointed, but Noce clearly has no intention of that, and to appreciate the film – as I did, to quite an extent, despite my rational side whispering and occasionally squawking in disbelief – one needs to be satisfied with going with the flow, and it is a beautiful flow, of being inside the fears and unsteady happinesses of a damaged child’s mind.

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Cinema Made in Italy is back!

Last year Cinema Made in Italy, a feature of London cinematic life that I tried not to miss every year, reached its conclusion in early March just at the time when the capital’s pzazz was dissolving into a soup of anxiety about the Corona virus, the subject of every overheard conversation, and lockdown was a cloud on the horizon about to take real shape two weeks later. Tube journeys already felt fraught, and the sweaty, fidgety man with the cough who jumped on at Notting Hill Gate brought an instant melodramatic flashback of  Visconti’s cholera-wracked man at Venice railway station in Death in Venice. But this year – glory be! – it’s with us again, virtual this time, available on Mubi from last weekend until April 29. What’s more you can watch it for free on a trial subscription. Perhaps we really are getting back to normality.

Ones to look out for include The Ties  (Lacci), by Daniele Luchetti, Italy’s chronicler of family drama, which opened the 2020 Venice Film Festival, a decades-long look at the slow unpicking and realigning within a middle class Neapolitan family, starring the splendid Alba Rohrwacher. More from Venice, also with a focus on family, are the comedy The Predators (I predatori), by Pietro Castellitto; Gianluca and Massimiliano De Serie’s stark Una promessa (Spaccapietre), set in the world of illegal farm workers; and in the Critics Week selection Mauro Mancini’s Thou Shalt Not Hate (Non odiare), for which Alessandro Gassmann won the Francesco Pasinetti Prize for Best Actor. Also at Venice, Claudio Noce’s Our Father (Padrenostro), shows a teenager comes to terms with the attempted killing of his father,  which draws on the director’s own experiences, while in contrast Life as a B Movie is a jokey look at real life Eurotrash maestro Pietro Vivarelli, directed by Vivarelli himself and Fabrizio Laurenti.  One definitely not to miss is Giorgio Diritti’s Hidden Away (Volevo nascondermi), the story of naïve artist Antonio Ligabue, whose life is as arresting as his art. Elio Germano’s portrayal of Ligabue won him a Silver Bear at the Berlinale.

Promising first time director Nicolangelo Gelormini’s  Fortuna is an unnerving horror film seen through child’s eyes, and there’s more family drama in Everything’s Gonna Be Alright (Cosa sara) by Francesco Bruni, where the search for a stem cell transplant stirs many emotions and leads to a formerly lost family member.

The real value of Cinema Made in Italy in the past has been that most of the films shown are not likely to be available in UK cinemas. Now, though  regular attenders may miss the cool interior and international audiences of its customary home, Cine Lumiere at the French Institute, they’re here for everyone, anywhere in the UK.  Don’t miss the opportunity!

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Happy Birthday Jeff Bridges – Crazy Heart

Happy Birthday Jeff! Here’s a review from 2010 of the film that brought him his first, long-deserved Oscar .

Crazy Heart

Directed by Scott Cooper

Is Jeff Bridges the best actor in Hollywood? The apparent ease with which he inhabits the bones of every role he plays has earned him, at last, an Oscar, and it’s about time. After 4 nominations over nearly 40 years (for the Last Picture Show, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Starman, and The Contender) it’s finally come, for this entertaining, gently moving film, transmuted by his performance from what on paper looks a pretty average tale, of a self-destructive man finding redemption in the love of a good woman, with country music as a sound track. 

He plays, or rather is, Bad Blake (‘call me Bad’), ageing, amiable, rootless country musician, drunk, serially divorced, absent father, and writer of sorrowful songs. We meet Bad, now coming to the end of the line, performing on the edge of things, in bowling halls and small bars in dusty towns across the country, where his name still means a lot to some of the old faithful. His days are spent in dingy motel rooms, half-heartedly watching porn movies, eating fast food and drinking. A horrible parody, you might say, of the carefree slacker life of The Dude, and with echoes , though it is nowhere near so great a film, of last year’s The Wrestler.

He’s so seldom more than an arm’s length away from  a glass of bourbon (except when the money runs out) that one’s liver shudders at the sight of all that brown liquid disappearing inside him. Yet he’s still, for the most part, a gentleman, courteous, amiable and with a sense of humour at his own failings. And great with kids, when he strikes up an unlikely relationship with the ‘good woman’, Maggie Gyllenhaal, bright single mother journalist.  But in the shape these movies always take, his happiness isn’t so easy to nail down. Great, unflashy performances from all around him – Gyllenhaal, Colin Farrell as his once young disciple, now a star who eclipses his mentor but still has time and respect for him, and a lovely cameo from Robert Duvall (looking, thank goodness, a deal better than when last seen in The Road) as an old buddy. The surprise is, or maybe not, what a great performer Bridges is, and what poetry he makes out of those so nearly sentimental songs. 

The best songs, says Bad, are those you feel like you’ve heard before, and maybe that’s part of his secret: always with a Bridges character you feel like you recognise as familiar something inside him, a common humanity, a lust for life. Here’s to you, Dude!

Seen at Empire Cinema Newcastle, March 9 2010, originally reviewed in floatationsuite.com

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Mariam

Directed by Sharipa Urazbayeva

Mariam lives on a tiny farm on the Kazakh steppe, many miles away from a town, some distance down a path from a dirt road. There are few rooms, little heating, and the only electricity, sufficient for a couple of hours a day, comes from a rudimentary solar generator. When her husband rides off and doesn’t return, she’s left with only her young son to help with the farm business, looking after cattle for the landowner. When a smaller girl and a baby emerge from the bedroom and we learn there is also an older brother in boarding school in the town, we realise the enormity of her situation, especially when the landowners take away their cattle, her only source of income.

This stunning debut feature from young Kazakh director Urazbayeva is all the more impressive when you know the background. Meruert Sabbusinova, who plays Mariam, inspired the whole thing after Urazbayeva came across her during the making of a TV documentary, and the basis of the plot is her own predicament when her husband disappeared and she was left without help to rear her children alone. Urazbayeva made the film with her own money, using non-professional actors.

For Mariam a trip to the police station in town brings the shattering news that she is not entitled to any help unless her husband is proved to be dead. Officialdom is not unfriendly but the already evident patriarchal nature of Kazakh society makes an ugly appearance in the policeman’s jokey supposition that her husband’s left her for another woman.

Sabbusinova’s situation, shockingly displayed like the documentary it actually is, is then developed into a plot which throws up moral dilemmas when an old school friend attempts to help, and Mariam, cheating the rotten system, gains something of a life for herself. For the first time we see her smile, and confidence and signs of a rather more liberated lifestyle follow. But the husband returns…

Shot in realist documentary fashion, we feel every physical effort of mother and son – even the sheep-killing scene is real (the meat subsequently providing a meal for the film cast and crew). The wind blows comfortlessly over the grassland, the cold is palpable, and there are many moments of sheer poetry, bleak though it is, by superb cinematographer Samat Sharipov. Opening shots smack you in the face with wind-lashed yellow grass across a monochrome landscape and the disturbing sound of Mariam’s despairing cries for her husband. And in the final shot the whiteness of snowflakes has joined the palette. It’s winter, even more bleak than before.

Mariam was among a week-long series of films streamed free in late October by The Calvert 22 Foundation, which via the online Calvert Journal showcases contemporary culture in the ‘New East’, the area of Eastern Europe, Balkans and Central Asia.

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Saint Maud

Directed by Rose Glass

The absence of a functioning Arts Cinema in my vicinity has meant that I hadn’t managed to get to a live screening of a film I actually wanted to see until a few days before Lockdown No.2 began. And this highly impressive, unnerving debut was as fitting as I could have hoped. If ever the engulfment in the action and moods of a film added another dimension, it does here, maybe enhanced by the new unfamiliarity of going out to a cinema. An adventure in itself after so long. The luscious dark, the unaccustomed quiet, the smells… And overriding the usual aroma of popcorn were the whiffs of cleaning materials and a curiously strong hand cleanser which immediately brought a potent nasal flashback to the homemade poteen which I once enthusiastically necked in Hull over 40 years ago, in a flat not far from Larkin’s High Windows. Senses well-primed, I entered Screen 7 of The Empire, Sunderland…

Maud (Morfydd Clark) is a palliative care nurse, whose latest patient is famous avant garde American choreographer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) now immobilised and dying in the kind of large, dimly lit and mysterious old house we know well from the horror genre. Maud is revealed as a troubling mixture of modern efficiency and old-fashioned piety, decking her cheap bedsit with all manner of religious items and holding conversations with her god as if he’s a valued and admired friend.

Maud is in fact not her real name, as we learn when she runs into an acquaintance from her former life, where she was Kate, to whom, we gather via murky flashbacks, something VERY BAD happened at her previous job in a care home. We never find out what exactly, or even whether she was responsible or just a horrified witness. She’s adopted the new name, presumably after the Saint (aka Mathilda), a C10th queen of Germany known for her work among the poor and sick.  It gradually becomes clear that the ecstatic St Teresa would have been a more appropriate choice, considering the increasingly queasy and quasi orgasmic effects of her joy in God. We’re inside her perceptions, as she seems to undergo many of the reputed experiences of the holy – the levitating, the visions, the ecstasy.

Her approach to Amanda is at first kindly-professional but increasingly more intimately friendly, as she begins to share her belief and her delight in her god’s manifestations with her. Amanda is sympathetic, and rather fascinated.  But the relationship unravels when a load of bohemian friends arrive at Amanda’s house, including her lover, who is not just female, but black, and scornful of Maud and her attachment to Amanda. This prompts Maud’s embittered fervour to go into overdrive, turning to increasingly manic self-damaging ‘saint-like’ actions, mortifications of the flesh, which again, like the more joyful manifestations, we are sufficiently in Maud’s sensibilities to shudder at. This all culminates in a more shocking conversation with a god who this time responds, in an extremely creepy and malignly slo-mo version of … Welsh? Culminating in horror.

Scarborough is an uncannily good backdrop to all this. It’s terrifically photogenic, as seen in last year’s SCARBOROUGH by Barnaby Southcombe. Cheek by jowl with the bright, loud sleaziness of its amusement-arcaded front, the  grubby alleyways and seamy pubs, is the pureness of its wide beaches and views over the sea, and on that nicer side of the bay that still harks back to the resort’s days of being a superior holiday and retirement area for the wealthier of Yorkshire’s people, the mystery and subliminal threat of the path up among shadowy trees that Maud takes to Amanda’s creepy, ill-lit old house.  

While rife with tropes of the horror genre, this film has many other things going on. The complex relations between nurse and nursed is opened up – the  interface between emotionally detached intimate physical caring and intimacy of a deeper kind, which is one of the triggers to Maud’s cracking up;  sensual desire and a religion which purportedly frowns on it; loneliness – Maud’s grimy bedsit is one of the most depressing I’ve seen for a while, and her foray back into the world of ‘Kate’, when in charmless pubs she attempts to latch on to other’s friendships, is desperate. Intimacy of all kinds is under the microscope here, and friendship’s limits – Maud’s fervour is fascinating to Amanda, who on one level seems to be taken up by it, but as soon as the cosmopolitan pals arrive and she’s back in her real world again we see it for what it was – nothing but fascination and curiosity in another kind of life. The nurse, close to her employer as she may need to be, is still ultimately an under-stairs character, like the governess in Victorian fiction. To Amanda’s friends, Maud is a nobody. No wonder her damaged psyche seeks out a god.

Seen at Empire Cinema, Sunderland, October 28 2020

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The Levelling

Directed by Hope Dickson Leach

In her very impressive feature debut Hope Dickson Leach uses the background of the devastating floods which hit the fertile pastoral area known as the Somerset Levels 3 years ago, to weave a story of unease that leaves a feeling as cold and claggy as the mud which is a constant feature.

After a beginning that contains just about the only brightness and warmth in the film – menacing too, though, the manic dancing to the flickering light of a bonfire – the screen is perpetually suffused with the dull light of an early winter afternoon or extreme darkness in a house that has no feeling of home.  We see Clover (Ellie Kendrick) returning to her family farm, feeling no relish to make contact with her estranged father Aubrey (David Troughton, a world away from his kindly BBC radio farmer Tony Archer – or is he?) for the funeral of her brother Harry who has killed himself.

Aubrey is living in a chaotic caravan in the farmyard, the house having been devastated by the floods and still uninhabitable. Despite his cheery fatherly greeting (‘You came!’), it’s soon obvious that the strife between them, from which Clover has escaped to train as a vet, is still very much alive. Her wellies stand ready by the door for her to immediately help with the cows, and sure enough she’s sucked, helplessly, into her old life just as the boots are into the ubiquitous mud.

Over all this hangs the mystery of Harry’s death. Suicide or accident? Aubrey is in denial about what all the signs point to, and shows a fierce grief that is in the most part anger at his son, a heady brew when combined with his continued resentment at his daughter’s disloyalty in choosing not to stay and eventually take over responsibility for the family farm, and his unacknowledged realisation that it cannot in any case survive.

Despite Aubrey’s posh tones, this is not a pretty, prosperous farm, but one of dampness, leaks,  cowshit, and tumbledown buildings, chipped formica and stained concrete, in a palette of grey, dull greens and browns. Like God’s Own Country, it portrays an undesirable, unspectacular livelihood, under the control of an old order that is damaged and hopeless, contaminating  its offspring unless they can find liberation outside. This is the reality of early twenty-first century England. It also put me in mind of Radiator (2015), where a similarly damaged patriarch  (the last screen performance of Richard Johnson) in similarly unkempt surroundings,  holds sway over his brow-beaten wife. Clover has tried to physically escape, as in a way did her brother, but we suspect she will never be able to emotionally get out from under the deadweight of  unsympathetic family obligation that this farm represents.

Seen on BBC iPlayer

Lynn + Lucy

Directed by Fyzal Boulifa

Lynn and Lucy have been best mates since school, they live across the road from each other, and we meet them on the occasion of the baptism of Lucy’s baby. For Lynn (Roxanne Scrimshaw), this is the happy culmination of their friendship. She, a mother since the age of 17, is delighted that her more vivacious friend, has at last become a mother herself.  Yet back home changes and problems loom which will make this more a devastating reversal than a consummation of female togetherness. For Lucy (Nichola Burley), with her disengaged younger partner, motherhood is turning out to be difficult, though there’s always Lynn popping over to smooth things down a bit.  For Lynn, with a moody teenager and an unhappy husband invalided out of the army after a training ground accident – not even the grand heroism of combat – it’s time to get a job, for the first time in her life. The local hairdresser, the glamorous Jannette (brilliant hair-flicking, pouting, scene-stealing performance by Jennifer Lee Moon), has a vacancy. She’s another old school colleague, though her memories of their schooldays are of Lucy, with Lynn in tow, bullying her. It certainly doesn’t seem to have lowered her self-esteem, but it’s clear from the outset that there are scores to be settled, and giving Lynn a job she can boss her in, sweeping up hair and making coffee, is a satisfactory beginning. We think we know these women, in particular the sympathetic Lynn, which is what makes what subsequently happens equally distressing and disturbing.  Disturbing, because all your thoughts about friendship and loyalty are horribly turned upside down.

They’re constrained and to some extent defined by their circumstances, yes, but this is far more than a politically-angled view of working class women. It’s a sharp study of the nature of friendship, the need to belong, and power play, a complex and universal view of what makes people behave the way they do in the situations life throws at them. In this her first role Roxanne Scrimshaw is superb, at first madonna-like then increasingly inscrutable as all the lives around her become altered by an awful tragedy.

This happened to be one of the first new films I’ve seen since pre-Covid, and even, as it reluctantly had to be, on the small screen, it took over my emotions. You care about these women because you think you really know them, and at certain points I was holding my breath, wishing something not to be so.  A triumphant feature debut from this young director.