My Summer of Love tells the story of Mona (Nathalie Press) and Tamsin (Emily Blunt), two very different teenagers who meet by chance and spend an intense summer holiday together in their Yorkshire village. Mona is sharp, reckless and cynical; she has learned most of her life lessons in the local pub, of which her mother was the landlady. Mona has recently lost her mum to cancer and she is out of touch with her father, so she now lives alone with her older brother, Phil (Paddy Considine). But Phil, an ex-con turned born-again Christian, now sees drinking alcohol as a sin and is in the process of turning the pub into a "spiritual centre", something that Mona strongly opposes but is powerless to prevent. Despite her shrewd façade, it soon becomes clear that Mona is sensitive and incapable of hiding her feelings, her frequent rudeness just a product of her hopeless honesty.
Tamsin, on the other hand, is a highly cultured, privately-educated, restless girl from a seemingly stable family. She is dramatic, intense, beautiful and bored. She lives in a grand ivy-covered house in the countryside, drinks red wine and plays the cello, portraying herself to Mona as an unloved, sensitive romantic, and wooing the more naïve girl with presents and promises. As the film develops it becomes clear that not all is what it seems, and what began as a story about two young girls spending hazy, sun-soaked days falling in love mutates into something much darker.
The film uses ideas that have frequently appeared in English storytelling. The theme of characters living in close proximity but leading vastly different lives because of class divisions is nothing new, nor is the notion that they will both learn from each other along the way. In fact, the characters on paper fall easily into the stereotypical categories of "diamond in the rough" and "spoilt little rich girl". But the writers and actors never lazily conform to these clichés. The film is interesting because of its intelligently-developed characters; none are over-simplified as 'good' or 'bad', instead presented as complex.
My Summer of Love is a beautiful, haunting, simple story, and its actors are its greatest asset. Press and Blunt make the film with their sensitive portrayals of young love, angst and betrayal, bringing humour and originality to the screen with their glances and movements as well as their words. We are allowed to watch the class system at work without explicit comment throughout the film, and Pawlikowski manages to present a somewhat hackneyed idea with such creativity that it almost seems new.--Chelsey Flood
We are very pleased to welcome Chelsey Flood to the Albion team. Chelsey comes from Derbyshire and brings a background in English Literature and Media Studies to the magazine. Her review of Danny Boyle's Millions appears below.--The Editor.
Andrew Kötting's Gallivant
Tall Stories, 1995; bfi DVD release, 2005
Afrer watching Gallivant, the viewer is left with a string of confused but generally pleasant images, much as one is after a holiday. One suspects that this is exactly what director Andrew Kötting wanted to achieve in this film of his journey around the coast of Britain in the company of his eighty-five-year-old grandmother Gladys, a wise, prickly, mischievous, and salty old lady, and seven-year-old daughter Eden, who suffers from Joubert's Syndrome and can only communicate using a simple sign language. The trio starts from Bexhill-on-Sea (his family's traditional holiday location), returning to it at the end of the film. With wit, flair, and tenderness, Kötting documents the places and peoples of the British coastline, using unorthodox techniques (time-lapse photography to convey the ebb and flow of tides and the turbulent power of winds and sky, and a jerky, speeded-up camera to give the impression of frenetic human movement) to evoke the sense of a time spent on holiday.
The film belongs to a relatively new genre of slightly avant-garde English documentaries concerned with exploring psychogeography, or the effect of place on people. Kötting captures austere and swooningly beautiful coastal landscapes, some of them obscure places which, through his lens, take on an epic quality. He adds evocative voice-overs and montages of sound to informal interviews with local people, whose eccentricities -mud-dancing, face-pulling competitions—are treated with affectionate respect, even celebrated. The film is a long chain of memorable encounters and images. Kötting succeeds in persuading a bashful fisherman to sing D'ye Ken John Peel. Eden wanders blissfully with spade and bucket on a Lindisfarne beach. The North-South divide rears its ugly head in Durham, where a local tells Kötting to go home (though not in quite those words). In Suffolk, we find some inebriated pigs and an eroding coastline, while in Sussex a man with a gentle demeanour who has lived on the Camber Sands for sixty-eight years seems to be under the impression that it is October, not November. Kötting imperturbably presents the viewer with his own quirks as well, wrestling with a giant fish, and discussing whether or not "condensed milk is a part of our heritage" with his crew. "How can condensed milk be a part of our hem --her-- herrigage?" says Gladys incredulously.
The segments shot in Scotland and Wales are beautiful, and interesting as well for the interactions between the English characters and those they meet there. Gran gets into a spirited agreement with an old gentleman in Wales about the parlous state of the then-Tory government, and a group of underprivileged Welsh teenagers venture their ideas about the English: "They've all got money, haven't they, all living by the seaside?" We meet an extremely jolly couple at John O'Groats. "The Scots are very obliging. Lovely people," says an English tourist. Kötting manages to find in Scotland and Wales as much colourful eccentricity, proportionately, as England.
Gallivant plays with the idea of heritage and tradition, showcasing local folk culture in all its variety, poetry, and strangeness: a beautiful display of long-sword-dancing, lilting folk music, the Hastings Jack-in-the-Green festival, and a shockingly anti-Papist Bonfire Night. It is also a film about family, showing the developing closeness between Gladys and Eden over the course of the journey, a poignant picture of the connection between the very old and very young. The ending is unexpectedly bitter-sweet.
Kötting has something of the compassionate eye and delight in the diversity of human personality of a Humphrey Jennings, coupled with irreverence and a gift for deadpan humour and visual jokes. Some may be irritated by the idiosyncratic camera and editing techniques and the off-kilter sound effects, but Gallivant is nonetheless a hugely worthwhile film, leaving the viewer warmed, with much to think about. --Isabel Taylor
When asked in an interview with the Observer about the motivation behind his most recent film The Business, director and script writer Nick Love stated: "I just wanted to make a film about a subculture and get it right. It seems to be chiming with people. If you make GosfordPark, how many people in the audience will know if you're using the right teapot or dinner jacket? Not many. But if you recreate the 1980s, you'd better get it right or people in their mid-thirties will come and bawl at you. Clobber, music, Porsches --people were mad into this stuff and you can't mess with their memories."
With his two previous feature-length releases Goodbye Charlie Bright and The Football Factory, Love had established a reputation for creating vivid depictions of social reality in England, specifically in his home town, London. The first film was a coming-of-age drama set in a south London council estate, following the lives of a group of mates through a hot summer. The latter was Love's first major cinematic release, and dealt with the difficult subject of contemporary hooliganism in English football clubs. Both hinted at Love's influences and also at his intentions as a director and writer. His debt to various 'cult' films is indisputable; there are obvious resemblances to La Haine, Human Traffic and Trainspotting amongst others, and so far his cinematography and narrative styles have shown little innovation. What distinguishes Love as a unique and interesting film-maker, however, is both his original choice of subject matter and his intention to recreate aspects of English culture as films meant to entertain people who may have had similar experiences to those of the films' characters.
The Business is clearly a continuation of the storytelling style that Love developed in his previous films, and it follows the exploits of Frankie, a young man from south London played by Danny Dyer, who dreams of escaping to go somewhere, anywhere, and be someone. After apparently killing his mother's lover, who had been beating her, Frankie gets away from England and the trouble he is in by doing a drug run to Marbella, or, as it often referred to, the Costa del Crime. Frankie eventually becomes a member of an English crime syndicate there, composed of criminals wanted in England who have sought safety and easy living in Spain. However, the story soon reaches crisis when Frankie and his partner Charlie get in over their heads and find themselves destitute and hopelessly addicted to coke. As with Love's other films, the naïveté and recklessness of the protagonist is eventually his salvation. Frankie ends up relatively well-off, on his way back to England with his wealth of experience, leaving the past behind.
The film demonstrates Love's ongoing fascination with the 1980s. As he noted in the quote above, he self-consciously tried to get the details right, particularly in his strict attention to costume, reportedly trawling online auctions for authentic vintage casual sports gear for the actors to wear. Again, it is clear that Love is not attempting to create big-budget extravaganzas that leave viewers cold, but to connect his audience with the film, thereby legitimising its depiction of certain aspects of English culture. According to him, it was not for 'Guardian readers' that he made the film, but for people like his own mates who read lad magazines. His intention was above all to create an entertaining story, and, seemingly, his idea of entertainment is something that the audience can relate to. The Business is not Love's best film, since it doesn't have the sensitivity for character of Charlie Bright or the excitement and anticipation of Football Factory. It is, however, a worthy contribution to Love's filmography, which is marked by some of the most interesting portrayals of English culture of the last few years. --Alexander Flux
What was it about Rumer Godden and films? Her other famous novel, Black Narcissus, about the yearnings of a group of Anglican nuns in the Himalayas, was turned into a beautiful but faintly ridiculous extravaganza by Powell and Pressburger. The River, a semi-autobiographical account of her Indian childhood, was also made into a film by a famous auteur, in this case Jean Renoir. The result is an aesthetically ravishing masterpiece of Technicolor photography that suffers, however, from stilted acting and an unbalanced storyline, with a number of cringe-worthy moments and some quite unbelievable dialogue.
This film about an English family in India during the 1940s starts promisingly enough. National Geographic-style photography of life on the river is interwoven with scenes of the family's tranquil domestic life and interactions with the local people. The family seems half-assimilated to local culture. They even hold a Diwali party, and the little boy's best friend is a small Hindu boy. The graceful Eurasian daughter of an Irish neighbour forms another, but not altogether comfortable, member of their circle. She is played by the Indian actress and dancer Radha (who has a wonderful dance part-way through), and the performance is a marvel of understated angst. The main plot-line concerns the infatuation of Harriet, the English family's teenage daughter, with an American war veteran, the cousin of the Irish neighbour, and her rivalry with another English girl over him.
The first two-thirds of the film form a lovely and sensitive evocation of a particular place and time. However, a shocking development towards the end throws into doubt the wisdom of assimilating to local culture, and clouds the sunniness of the earlier part of the film. This, combined with the increasing heat of the emotions surrounding the girls' relationship with the American soldier, throws off the story's previous serene balance. There are problems as well with the acting. Many of the semi-professional cast, apart from a couple of the professional actors (Esmond Knight and Nora Swinburne, who play the father and mother respectively) have no idea at all how to speak lines, which worsens makes the googliness of the script, which was written jointly by Renoir and Godden. The lines given the Irish neighbour are extremely peculiar, while the mother-daughter talk about babies is perhaps the most ridiculous part of the screenplay.
The film pays a graceful tribute to Eastern religion, and in this way it was certainly ahead of its time. The nature photography is stunning, and various Hindu festivals and customs are informatively documented. For those with an interest in the historical role of the English in India, it is a fascinating picture of one particular sort of family and its relationship with local society. However, the odd thing about the film is the absence of any evidence of the Indian political situation at the time. It may, of course, be trying to suggest that its effect on rural people was not very marked, but I suspect that Renoir, whose films are testaments to his humanistic vision, meant to say rather than ordinary people are capable of getting along on a personal basis in spite of political circumstances. (In a memorable moment at the start of the film, the father stops on his way home from work to give a kite to a tiny Indian girl.) The family have Indian servants, but this is merely observed, not commented on. Most modern viewers will probably find the father's role as superintendent of a jute factory a little disquieting. Nan, the Indian nurse, is an uncomfortable stereotype. Childlike and talkative, she is also extremely superstitious.
The Criterion Collection restoration of the film, a Region 1 disc, is absolutely exquisite, as their restorations invariably are, and filled with their usual range of high-quality extras. Some of these are very interesting, especially the interview with Martin Scorsese about the film. However, most viewers will probably find the BBC documentary on Rumer Godden tiresome and irritating.--Isabel Taylor
Some of the country's finest contemporary filmmakers crafted Millions, including director Danny Boyle (Shallow Grave, 1994, Trainspotting, 1996 and 28 Days Later, 2002) and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce (24 Hour Party People, 2001). They have both played significant parts in reviving the British film industry in recent years. Expectations were therefore high for their collaboration on Millions, but are these expectations fulfilled by the film?
Millions tells the story of seven-year-old Damian (Alex Etel) and nine-year-old Anthony (Lewis McGibbon). After the death of their mother, they and their father Ronnie (James Nesbitt) move to a shiny new estate in the north of England. Desperate to fit in at his new school, Anthony attempts to modify his little brother's unusual behaviour (Damian regularly communicates with saints) to protect the pair from being singled out by the other children.
One day a bag of money "falls out of the sky" and lands at Damian's feet. Ever the innocent, Damian believes that it is a gift from God to be given to the poor. He begins, rather clumsily, attempting to distribute the money to those who need it, exasperating his rationalist brother. Anthony wants to invest the money in real estate, but cannot without the aid of an adult, and he refuses to tell their father about the windfall because he doesn't want to lose 40% of the money to the government. Further disagreements arise between the children over what to do with the money when schoolmates reveal that there has been a recent train robbery, and Damian realises that the money is stolen and not heavenly. To add to the complications of the plot, Sterling is on the verge of being replaced by the Euro and the money will be rendered worthless if the children can't get it changed in time, for which they need the help of their father and his new girlfriend.
Millions is stylish and beautifully shot, the tired "grim up north" stereotype submerged by rolling green hills, luminous colza plants and perpetual blue skies. Unfortunately, though, while the film excels in cinematography, clever editing sequences and beautiful scenes of magic realism, it fails to integrate all of its elements well enough to be genuinely enjoyable to watch. It lacks subtlety. Its themes are too blatant, its adult characters weakly developed, and its plot messy.
It is a film of ideas, and these fall over each other and trip each other up trying to get our attention. Boyle and Boyce want viewers to think about big issues: about greed and wealth, morality and faith. In the end, there is too much to think about. Although symbolic of real life, this becomes problematic within the scope of a ninety-minute film.--Chelsey Flood