Tag Archives: British film

Odd Couple


by Rachel Willis

Irascible Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton, The Girl with All the Gifts) doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. Called a witch by local children, pranked by schoolboys, and barely tolerated by the adults in her community, she’s resigned to her routine and to living her life alone.

Writer/director Jessica Swale, with her first feature film, Summerland, examines what it means to be a woman in a world where women had very few choices in life.   

In the early-1940’s, the British countryside of Kent is seemingly removed from the harsher realities of World War II. The residents are asked to do their part for the “war effort,” but none of this affects Alice. At least, not until a trainload of children arrive from London. Fleeing the frequent bombing raids on the city, the children have been separated from their parents and sent to live with strangers.

Conscripted to care for Frank (Lucas Bond), Alice is perturbed by this development in her life. She wants nothing to do with the boy, but with no other options, she’s forced to take him.

Though the film has a warm, light-hearted tone, there are moments that remind the audience about the harsh realities of the time. Frank is on his own with a stranger who treats him with undisguised annoyance. Through flashbacks, we learn that Alice’s past still haunts her. As Frank becomes a part of her life, we come to understand why she is angry with the world.

But it’s past trauma that allows the characters to bond, and Swale conveys this with tenderness. Though Alice doesn’t have the foggiest idea how to care for a child, she finds a companion who accepts her and treats her with kindness even when she doesn’t deserve it.

Swale explores a few themes, but she’s primarily concerned with Alice’s experiences, leaving little room for anything else. Alice is the only character with depth. The ancillary characters round out the main story, but none of them truly live and breathe. We barely scratch the surface of this complex world.

While the theme of Swale’s choosing is worthwhile, the lack of attention to the other details is distracting. Rather than serving as a thematic bookend to Alice, Frank ends up as a crutch for her growth.

The result is a middling film about love and friendship that still has enough appeal to thaw the coldest hearts.

Tell Me a Story

Ghost Stories

by Hope Madden

Billed as a return to the old-school British horror anthology, Ghost Stories takes us through three paranormal cases passed from the chief investigator to a colleague he’s hoping can prove them false.

Ghost Stories is based on a popular stage play written by the film’s own co-writers and co-directors, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Nyman also stars as Professor Goodman, the paranormalist who agrees to look into the trio of cases that muddled his hero and mentor.

The movie invests far more in this set up than expected, developing a fascinating connecting tale rather than a simple framing device that holds together a handful of otherwise disconnected shorts. Instead, we get a deeper story, one that influences and is influenced by the shorts in ways more organic than the run-of-the-mill anthology.

And though the three individual shorts contain nothing extraordinary in the way of scares, each offers a richly developed world full of detail and shadow. Every short has its own personality and style, although they all contain puzzle pieces that provide a coherence to the overall story, little items that range from the peculiar to the outright spooky.

A great deal of the success lies in the wonderfully human portrayal delivered by Nyman, who conveys humility, pomposity, self-righteousness, pity and terror in turns without ever hitting a false note. Other solid performances pepper the film. Martin Freeman is particularly engaging. Paul Whitehouse and Alex Lawther also bring uniquely high-strung characters to life.

As scares go, the first short packs the biggest wallop. A night guard at a dilapidated old asylum for women sees and hears strange things, leading to horror.

If that sounds like well-worn territory, that’s because it is. In fact, the three short films themselves don’t deliver much in the way of new scares, but that isn’t Nyman and Dyson’s intention. The terror here is far less paranormal than existential, and clever clues combine with crisp writing to create a full picture that’s more satisfying than it should probably be.