rating: 2.5Writer-director Ben Crowe certainly knows atmosphere, even if the minimalist narrative can't quite support it in his sumptuous debut Verity's Summer, a beautifully photographed and solidly acted drama about an upper-middle class family close to breaking point. Young student Verity (Indea Barbe-Willson) returns from boarding school to her comfortable yet listless existence back home in rural Northumberland, to parents who appear to live together more out of a sense of convenience than love. Cutting between a family dynamic that bubbles with unspoken tension, the travails of a destitute former squaddie living rough on a beach nearby, and the social alienation felt by a Polish immigrant new in town, Crowe painstakingly reveals how these disparate threads connect with an almost fatal level of subtlety. It's a long time before these constituent elements begin to cohere together, and Crowe seems more focused on conveying the ennui felt by a family immersed in enormous comfort but knowing little of what it means to be truly satisfied.
Secrets regarding the patriarch's time as a soldier in Iraq slyly percolate around the narrative, while Crowe tries to replicate the unbearably awkward tension of last year's low-fi indie class study Late September, though the picture often feels a little too quaint to achieve the same goals. It's all glasses of wine in the bath, swims at the beach, and just about every lofty class cliche in between. Like the aforementioned film, it's a problem of communication for the characters; nobody says what they're really feeling, at least until the final third when actions and consequences begin to finally take a stern hold. The spare dialogue, if perhaps reflective of middle class apathy, is frustrating to observe and unintentionally amusing on at least a few occasions. At the end of the day, it all hinges on the performances; Barbe-Wilson is a startling newcomer, though done little justice by an over-abundance of mumbled-at-a-distance dialogue as well as a glacial pace, which could easily see the film chopped by 20 minutes only to its benefit. Though the lack of verbiage makes it an undemanding sit, the airy atmosphere, beautifully shot and impressively scored though it is, ultimately doesn't amount to much. Difficult to criticise aesthetically or on the basis of its performances, Verity's Summer is nevertheless a promising but perplexing debut feature let down by a low narrative pulse that makes it difficult to care. Verity's Summer is on limited tour release from today. Check the official website for dates and ticket information.