ALBATROSS Review - Surprisingly Sweet & Engaging

The superb cast, superior script and confident direction made this a surprisingly engaging, sweet, funny and touching movie.

rating: 4

(Our review from the Edinburgh Film Festival re-posted as Albatross is out now in the UK) Emelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) has something of a gift for effrontery. She is not scared to say what is on her mind. She doesn€™t suffer fools gladly, nor miss an opportunity to shock a stuffy, boring adult. Her surname is Conan Doyle, and she introduces herself as the great-great-granddaughter of Arthur Conan Doyle. Like him, she wants to be a writer. She comes into the life of Beth (Felicity Jones) when Beth€™s parents hire her as a cleaner for their Bed & Breakfast. Beth is well-educated, polite, and well-behaved. The girls are both 17; of the two, Beth is the one who has never drank, or had sex. Anyone who has seen a coming-of-age movie before, particularly a British one, will see where this is going; Emelia is the influence that Beth needs to come out of her shell, and maybe Emelia can learn a thing or two from Beth as well. €œAlbatross,€ an entertaining new movie from director Niall MacCormick, follows their friendship during this formative year. There is nothing particularly original about its plot, so it comes down to the scripting, direction and acting, and all three are surprisingly engaging. I say €˜surprisingly€™ because this is the first feature movie from MacCormick, who has previously only worked in TV, and also the first script from writer Tamzin Rafn, who has no other credits on IMDb but is clearly a talented screenwriter and a name to look out for. Furthermore it is the first time Findlay, who had a part on TV€™s Misfits, has been in a film, and she gets the character perfectly; I would never have guessed it was her first film role. She and Jones, aside from being beautiful (Jones has an overbite to die for) hold the film together superbly. Neither girl has an ideal home-life. Emelia€™s mother committed suicide and she lives with her grandparents; her grandmother has Alzheimer€™s and she has to remind her, frequently and painfully, that her daughter is dead. We realise her overconfident nature is concealing deep wounds; she uses her audacity as a shield. Beth€™s parents are constantly at each others€™ throats. Her father, played by Sebastian Koch (€œThe Lives of Others€), is a writer who had success 20-odd years ago and has never followed it up. Her mother, Julia Ormond, is immediately suspicious of Emelia, and the effect she will have on her sensible daughter. The first time Emelia meets Beth€™s dad, she walks in on him €˜procrasturbating€™ (new favourite word). Emelia€™s beauty gives her a power over men that she is aware of, and for the most part enjoys. She has a boyfriend at the start (Harry Treadaway, one of the twins from €œBrothers of the Head€) with whom she quickly becomes bored. She flirts, unwisely, with Beth€™s dad, who offers her creative writing courses. Although she is the one of the two to have had sex before the film starts, she learns just as much about herself and her sexuality, I would say, as Beth does over the course of the movie. There are imperfections: a few lines of dialogue feel written, but given how sharp and funny much of it is this is rather like looking a gift horse in the mouth. There could have been more surprises, from the story and the characters. There are echoes of other movies, not least An Education. But these criticisms are fairly minor; the superb cast (which also includes Peter Vaughan, as Emelia€™s grandfather), superior script and confident direction made this a surprisingly engaging, sweet, funny and touching movie. Albatross is out now in the U.K.

I've been a film geek since childhood, and am yet to find a cure. Not an auteurist, but my favourite directors include Robert Altman, Ernst Lubitsch, Welles, Hitch and Kurosawa. I also love Powell & Pressburger movies, anything with Fred Astaire, Cary Grant or Katherine Hepburn, the space-ballet of 2001, Ealing comedies, subversive genre cinema and that bit in The Producers with the fountain.