Tag Archives: Alice Lowe

In My Oils

Eternal Beauty

by George Wolf

Actor and filmmaker Craig Roberts has pointed to a family member beset by mental illness as the inspiration for Eternal Beauty. You can feel the care Roberts takes in trading stigmas for “superpowers,” as well as the trust he puts in his stellar ensemble to mine the subtle humanity in his script.

Roberts played Sally Hawkins’s son in the sublime Submarine ten years ago, and arranging a working reunion sits right at the top of the smart choices made for his second feature as writer/director.

The Oscar-nominated Hawkins plays Jane, a woman managing to live independently with paranoid schizophrenia, constant medication and bouts of depression. She still has scars from being left at the altar years before, and receives precious little affection or encouragement from her mother (the always welcome Penelope Wilton) or sisters (Alice Lowe, Billie Piper).

Jane’s choice to take a break from her meds brings concerns (like the giant spider hallucinations) but also some welcome clarity amid her constant fog. After first rebuffing the interest of Mike (David Thewlis), an aspiring musician with similar mental issues, Jane accepts his advances, and the two begin a relationship bearing all the awkwardness and free-spirited fun of first love.

Hawkins, again, is a wonderful vessel of expression. Jane may stumble through her days wearing oversized clothes and offering hushed sentences, but she’s always observing and dissecting. She can notice the red flags of her brother-in-law’s wandering eye, and sensibly concoct a darkly hilarious plan to improve her family’s choice in Christmas gifts. Through it all, Hawkins’s vision of Jane is never less than human, and always deeply affecting.

Roberts often films with disjointed angles and changing colors to reflect Jane’s worldview, which sounds more cloying than it actually is, much like the tonal shifts that Roberts softens through a wise commitment to understatement.

More than once in the film we hear a doctor advise: “Don’t fight depression, make friends with it.” By treating Jane’s joy and heartbreak less like a clinical study and more as parts of a greater familial whole, Eternal Beauty finds a way to make those orders seem doable.

Word for Word

Sometimes Always Never

by Hope Madden

Veteran British writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (Welcome to Sarajevo, Millions) adapts his own short story of a grieving if dapper tailor, a not-so-prodigal son, making the best of a sad substitute, and Scrabble.

Thanks to the vision of first time feature director Carl Hunter, Sometimes Always Never enjoys an eccentrically stylish, elegantly odd presentation. Hunter, in turns, finds those exact same characteristic in its sublime lead, Bill Nighy.

The film tags along as dapper Alan (Nighy) and his son Peter (Sam Riley) drive some distance together. They’ve been summoned to an out-of-town morgue to identify a body.

Between Hunter’s deliberate framing and set composition and Nighy’s droll but endearing presence, the film cannot help but charm. But the delightful and eye-catching style belies a grieving heart.

Nighy, of course, is brilliant—and how fun is it to watch him lead a film rather than take the screen as some minor if wonderful character? In his hands, Alan is unknowable but not intimidating. He’s spry and precisely drawn, never sentimental for a beat, and yet endlessly tender. Nighy owes Boyce a great debt for creating such a beautifully layered odd duck, and all of us owe Nighy even more for bringing Alan to life in his inimitable way.

Hunter surrounds his lead with a solid ensemble committed to understatement. Riley’s emotional turmoil has a resigned, lived-in quality that’s both sad and sweet. Jenny Agutter and Tim McInnerny (Severance), likewise, deliver the human contradiction of comedy and tragedy, while Alice Lowe (Prevenge) is just the sweetheart the film needs for balance.

Balance is an excellent word—though it may not net as many points as some more strategic choices, or is it as fun to say as “soap.” But in terms of the visuals versus the dialog, or the emotional versus the comedic, Hunter keeps a grip and never lets the film tip this way or that.

That doesn’t always feel true to the profound tragedy that has befallen this family and has caused, slowly but surely over the many years, the fractures Alan is attempting to mend. This pain too often feels overlooked, becoming a slight that keeps Sometimes Always Never from reaching its own cinematic potential.

Plumbing Psyches, Having Tea

The Ghoul

by Hope Madden

The Ghoul opens on a crime scene. One detective leads another through the facts of the crime, which appear simple enough until you work in the bit about the victims walking toward the perpetrator even after being repeatedly shot.

Are we watching a cop drama, supernatural thriller or meditation on mental illness? Actor turned writer/director Gareth Tunley keeps you guessing.

As Chris (Tom Meeten), working with criminal profiler Kathleen (Alice Lowe), goes undercover to investigate a therapist who may be hiding a lead, Tunley’s story takes a series of mysterious turns.

In his feature debut behind the camera, Tunley’s instincts for leading and misleading pay off. His film moves quite slowly, wandering into fascinating territory now and again as it forever turns itself inside and out.

To say much more about the plot would rob it of its curious power, but the writing, in particular, deserves attention for accomplishing something few scripts manage.

An agile, believable lead performance helps.

Meeten’s quiet, often heartbreaking turn grounds the film, while Rufus Jones and Geoffrey McGivern, as patient and psychologist, respectively, offset the quiet with bright bursts of energy.

Tunley offers two equally viable interpretations for his film, echoing events and phrases to create a structure that mirrors the mystery unfolding. Reminiscent at times of memorable (if underseen) indies Tony, Locke and They Look Like People, The Ghoul still manages to tell its own peculiar and poignant story.


Maniac Baby on Board


by Hope Madden

Anybody with any sense at all is afraid of pregnant women.

I myself all but pushed a man down a flight of stairs while I was pregnant, and still don’t see the problem with it.

With unassuming mastery, Alice Lowe pushes that concept to its breaking point with her wickedly funny directorial debut, Prevenge.

Lowe plays Ruth. Grieving, single and pregnant, Ruth believes her unborn daughter rather insists that she kill a bunch of people.

With her characteristically dry, oh-so-British humor, Lowe exposes awkward moments of human interaction and then forces you to stare at them until they become gigglingly unbearable.

Why such bloodlust from Ruth’s baby? Lowe, who also wrote the script, divulges just as much as you need to know when the opportunity arises. At first, there’s just the macabre fun of watching the seemingly ordinary mum pick off an unsuspecting exotic pet salesman.

And then on to the saddest, most pathetic 70s-loving disco club DJ of all time.

With each new victim we learn a bit more backstory and a little more about Ruth, who’s on a path that’s funny, bloody and just touching enough to leave a mark.

Lowe’s blackly comic timing as an actor is well proven, particularly in Ben Wheatley’s 2012 gem Sightseers, which she also co-penned. Wheatley’s picture predicted Lowe’s ability to zero in on anxieties around social awkwardness and exploit them for all their squirm-worthy horror and comedic worth, as well.

She ably showcases these skills and more in Prevenge, this time mining larger themes of grief and pre-partum depression with a weary authenticity. (Lowe, like her character Ruth, was 7 months pregnant during filming.)

Rarely gory (DJ Dan does get it pretty good, though), the film barely registers as horror, but as a comedy it treads some dark territory. It does so with authority, good will, subversive insight and a laugh.

It’s a thin plot requiring the ability to suspend disbelief, but it also announces a very fresh voice in horror.