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  • David Parkinson

Parky At the Pictures (1/12/2023)

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

(Reviews of The Eternal Daughter; Tótem; Queendom; Femme; and Battle Over Britain)


THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER.


Having revisited her own past for those deeply personal portraits of the artist as a young woman, The Souvenir (2019) and The Souvenir Part II (2021), Joanna Hogg goes in search of more elusive auto-fictional insights in The Eternal Daughter, in which she ponders the morality of making a film about her mother in a story about a director questioning whether she has the right and the mentality to base a scenario upon her mother. Once again, the mother-daughter characters are called Rosalind and Julie Hart. But, while Tilda Swinton played alongside real-life daughter Honor Swinton Byrne in the earlier outings set in the 1980s, she is cast opposite herself in a narrative that takes place in the present day.


A December fog swirls around the roads leading to the remote Moel Famau hotel in Flintshire. At the wheel of a white taxi, the cabby (August Joshi) relates an anecdote about his wedding reception at the venue and the ghostly presence in the photos of a face at a window. As he pulls up outside the entrance, Julie Hart fusses over the luggage and her Springer Spaniel, Louis, while mother Rosalind waits patiently nearby. She takes a seat in reception, while Julie approaches the desk to sign in. Despite having phoned ahead to confirm the reservation of a room with a view of the ornate garden, Julie is informed by the brusque receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies) that the room is unavailable and that they will have to make do with a twin overlooking a wedding marquee.


As they've arrived late, they have also missed the evening meal. But the receptionist promises to bring up a kettle, while she remains at her desk, as the Harts negotiate the creaking staircase with their bags. Rosalind reassures Julie that she doesn't mind being in a different room, but chides her daughter when she takes an age unpacking and laying everything out until it is just so. Perching on the bed, Rosalind offers Julie one of her `little helpers', but she declines because she wants to go and collect the kettle.


Seeing the receptionist teetering on to the drive and slip into the passenger seat of a red car that screeches away with loud music booming, Julie realises she is going to have to fend for herself. Despite the suggestion that the hotel is fully booked, she sees no one as she ventures into the kitchen area and returns to the room to endure a sleepless night, as the old mansion creaks and groans.


The next morning, Julie mentions the noises to the receptionist. But she's dismissively unconcerned and leaves her guest to pick her way upstairs with a breakfast tray for her mother. Although she has booked the getaway as a treat for Rosalind's birthday, Julie is hoping to make progress with a screenplay she is researching and leaves her mother tucked up and tucking in, while she finds a quiet place to work.


Although undisturbed for the day, Julie struggles to get anywhere and returns to the room as the light is fading. Still mourning the recent loss of her husband, Rosalind is pleased to see her because her only child's career keeps them apart for long periods. She reminisces about spending part of her Second World War childhood in what was then her Aunt Jocelyn's home and recalls how the worry about her family in London had tainted the enjoyment of being in such luxurious surroundings with her cousins.


This mention reminds Julie that she had received a message from her own cousin, who still lives nearby and had hoped to pop over and see her. Rosalind would rather be left alone, but she eagerly heads downstairs for dinner and mother-and-daughter pore over the basic menu as though they were in a fine restaurant. Doubling as a waitress, the receptionist shuffles impatiently while waiting for the order and plonks the food down with little finesse. Tutting at the absence of a fish knife, Rosalind cuts into her battered cod and jokes about having to make the best of things as she had done during the war.


While her mother heads upstairs, Julie takes Louis for a walk and calls her husband. The signal is poor, so she limits herself to pleasantries before hanging up. As she follows the snuffling dog, Julie peers into the windows of an outbuilding and feels uneasy and her mood is not improved by further disturbance by the various clanks and thuds that keep her awake.


Eager to press on with her script, Julie leaves Rosalind in the room and scuttles off to the desk she has found in an upper lounge. Still finding inspiration eluding her, she comes downstairs to find Rosalind writing Christmas cards in front of the fire in a comfortable sitting-room. She offers to help and they chat with Rosalind maintaining the measured composure that sets her apart from her restless, anxious-to-please daughter.


Back in the room, Rosalind reveals that this isn't her first return to the old place since the war. She had come to stay with her husband and had been illl following a miscarriage. Julie curses herself for bringing her mother back to a place she associates with unhappiness and admonishes herself further when Louis slips out of the door and bolts off into the night. Calling to the dog in the grounds, Julie bumps into Bill (Joseph Mydell), the night porter who helps with her search.


Having returned to the room to find Rosalind asleep and Louis curled up beside her, Julie goes down to inform Bill (as the receptionist has already done her evening flit). He offers her a drink and they sit in the dim light, as she confides that her father's name was William and he explains that he has been employed as a jack-of-all-trades since his cook wife died and he decided to stay on to be close to her.


Next day, Julie makes an early start on her screenplay and comes down during the afternoon to find Rosalind and Bill nattering in the sitting-room. She is pleased to see that her mother has made a friend, but she is hurt when Rosalind admits to feeling sorry for her daughter because she never got to be a mother and consoles herself with the notion that her films are her children. Wandering in the garden after another brief call home, Julie again finds herself drawn to the darkened windows of the brick building and she shudders and hastens back to the room.


Overcoming her sadness, Julie determines to give her mother a happy birthday. When her cousin (Crispin Buxton) arrives unannounced, she hurries down to head him off and consults the receptionist to ensure that everything goes off smoothly with the champagne and cake. Putting on a smart red dress, she also lays out some neatly wrapped gifts on her mother's side of the table and is gratified by the look of delight when Rosalind comes down for dinner. She comments on the prettiness of the wrapping paper, as she opens a musical box and smiles gently as Julie explains that she wanted to give her one like the one she had received from her husband.


Sipping bubbles, Rosalind suddenly feels tired and asks if she can open the other presents later. Julie suggests they have supper, but Rosalind isn't hungry and they squabble when Julie says she'll wait until her mother's ready. Overcome, Julie asks Rosalind if she knows how hard she tries to please her and how difficult it is to be kept at a distance and always be made to feel a disappointment. She also confesses that she finds it hard to be happy knowing that Rosalind is unhappy. Hoping the cake will restore Rosalind's spirits, Julie returns with a single candle and a song. But, as she starts to sob with a mixture of love, guilt, and remorse, the camera pulls away and we see she is all alone.


After taking another stab at the script on her laptop, Julie packs to leave. The receptionist seems concerned about her, as the other guests mill around the lobby and the hotel takes on a different air. Bill greets her outside and helps her into a taxi. As it pulls away, the fog begins to clear around Moel Famau.


Joanna Hogg has cited several influences on this slender, but decidedly affecting tale. The ghost stories of M.R. James are clearly a factor, although echoes of the classic BBC adaptations can also definitely be detected. Similarly, Jack Clayton's The Innocents (1961) feels as significant as Henry James's source story, `The Turn of the Screw', while the fact that Julie can be seen reading Rudyard Kipling's `They' suggests the impact of its sense of loss and limboic accidie. The notion of memory and mining the past is also referenced in the Harts' room being called `Rosebud', which is the key word in Orson Welles's Citizen Kane (1941). But the opening shots of a vehicle heading towards an isolated hotel, the spectrally consoling presence of Bill, and the use of Béla Bartók's `Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta' all imply that Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980) might also have left its mark on proceedings.


Shooting during Covid in the wondrously atmospheric 300 year-old Soughton Hall, Hogg invokes the spirit of Hammer in setting her old dark house scene. But restraint is very much the watchword of Stéphane Collonge's production design and Ed Rutherford's 16mm imagery. Scrupulously ensuring that Julie and Rosalind never appear in the same shot, the lugubrious camerawork rather gives the game away, although Hogg is less interested in creating a conceit than in exploring the effect of environment on mood and the difficulties that daughters have in communicating with their mothers.


Although Rosalind looks a bit young for someone born in the 1930s, Siobhan Harper-Ryan's make-up and hair designs for Tilda Swinton are exemplary, while Grace Snell's costumes deftly convey character. But it's Swinton skill at capturing the similarities and differences between the genteely composed Rosalind and the fusspottish Julie that makes this `Gothic mystery drama' so captivating. She fully justifies the casting decision and editor Helle le Fevre plays a vital role in stitching the shot-reverse footage into a performance of subtlety and perceptiveness. Also helping is the sound mix supervised by Jovan Ajder, which recalls the noises in the night that Swinton had to endure in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Memoria (2021).


The debuting Carly-Sophia Davies is splendidly abrupt as the receptionist seemingly oblivious to the concept of customer service, while Joseph Mydell brings some warmth and wisdom as the only character who gets to speak to both mother and daughter. Swinton's own pet also steals scenes as the snufflesome Louis, who seems as willing to accept Rosalind's presence as Julie. But we never do get to learn why she furtively presses `record' on her phone whenever a mother who isn't there starts to reminisce about her past. Perhaps executive producer Martin Scorsese knows.


TOTÉM.


Echoes of Emma Seligman's Shiva Baby (2020) and Paolo Sorrentino's The Hand of God (2021) run through Lila Avilés's lively, but deeply poignant family gathering, Tótem Following on from her compellingly impressive debut, The Chambermaid (2018), this winner of the Ecumenical Award at the Berlin Film Festival confirms the 41 year-old as one of Mexican cinema's most important new voices.


While out shopping with actress mother Lucia (Lazua Larios), seven year-old Sol (Naíma Sentíes) needs the bathroom. The pair sing and joke while waiting for Sol to poop, but she takes so long that Lucia has to wee in the sink. Driving home, they hold their breath in a tunnel and Sol wishes that her artist father, Tonatiuh (Mateo Garcia Elizondo), stays alive.


He is suffering from terminal cancer and is under the constant care of nurse Cruz (Teresita Sánchez). In order to celebrate his birthday (and say their last farewells), the family is gathering for a party and sisters Nuria (Montserrat Marañon) and Alejandra (Marisol Gasé) find themselves in charge in the kitchen, as Lucia entrusts Sol to her aunties, while she goes to the theatre.


Cousin Ester (Saori Gurza) dislikes the rainbow wig and clown nose that Sol is wearing to cheer up her father and Nuria has to make her apologise. Confused as to why she can't see Tona while he's resting, Sol agrees to help Alejandra, who is dyeing her hair while calling round to make sure guests have rememebered to buy cheerful presents.


Having insisted on cleaning the top of the fridge, Ester showers with her mother, while Sol asks why her father is sleeping in the room in which her grandmother died. She finds a snail and wanders into the garden to fetch some more, she attaches to the paintings that have been hung in place of her father's pictures. Curious to know why they have been taken down, she asks Alejandra as she rinses her hair and she provides the latest in a series of evasive answers that leave Sol all the more determined to discover the truth.


As she mooches around, Sol sees psychologist grandfather Roberto (Alberto Amador) with a sobbing female patient and meets a parrot in the garage. She gets told off for trying out Robero's electrolarynx device and watches in bemusement as Alejandra welcomes Lúdica (Marisela Villarruel) to drive the evil spirits from the house using a burning bread roll on a stick and two buckets of water. Roberto (who is still feeling spooked after a crow flew over him while he was pruning a bonsai tree he's bought for his son) reckons the rigmarole is an expensive waste of time, as is the party.


Left to her own devices, Sol builds a cushion fort and is told off for making a mess. Wandering into a side-room, she accidentally breaks a vase and shovels the pieces under a sideboard. She finds a bottle of alcohol and hides away to ask her phone questions about her father's fate and when the world will end. Cruz discovers her and reassures her that her father adores her and isn't keeping her at a distance on purpose. Smelling her breath, she also tells her not to drink any more booze and takes her phone to prevent her from asking any more distressing questions.


Adolescent cousins Isa (Galia Mayer) and Chavita (Lukas Urquijo López) arrive and Alejandra has to goad them into helping with the hoovering. Nuria's husband, Napo (Juan Francisco Maldonado) arrives with a goldfish for Tona and Ester and Sol agree to call him Nugget. While they fill a jug of water for the fish, the grown-ups discuss Tona's condition and his decision to refuse chemotherapy and live on morphine. They spell out words so the children don't understand, but it's clear they still feel guilty about their mother's death and are getting into debt to pay for their brother's care.


Having soiled himself, Tona is reluctant to attend the party, but Cruz tries to calm him down. Outside, the others are having a positive energy session to create a good vibe, but Nuria starts drinking after having burned the birthday cake and become convinced that the party will be ruined by a rumbling storm. However, the weather holds up and the sisters pass round a piggy bank to take a collection for Tona's expenses.


He allows Sol to see him and he shows her a painting he has made containing all her favourite animals. She tells him facts about them all and they hug. Lucia arrives with the gift of a tamarind seed shaker that makes shapes and they play a game trying to interpret them. Steeling himself, Tona leaves his room and is greeted by the guests wearing masks of his face. He's pleased to see them and listens to speeches and watches as a paper lantern balloon goes up in smoke. While everyone is distracted, however, Cruz has Tona's paintings collected (on his instruction).


In the kitchen, Alejandra takes Nuria to task for getting tipsy and is accused in return of being controlling. Ester comes looking for her mother, while Alejandra tries to persuade Cruz to stay, but she is reluctant as she hasn't been paid for a fortnight and feels insulted that cash has been splashed out on a party when she can barely feed her child.


Roberto (who has clearly survived his own bout of cancer) lingers around the periphery of the party, but catches Tona's eye to present him with the bonsai, which he has been tending since his wife died. Sol climbs on Lucia's shoulders and dons her wig and a long coat to mime to an opera recording and Tona is moved by the realisation that he will never see her grow up. But he holds things together, as the cake is brought in. He's told to make a wish, but he decides not to and, as the candles light up her face, Sol realises that he's going to die. Looking up, she fixes the lens and stares ahead as her eyes start to glisten.


A closing shot shows Tona's stripped bed and a breeze billowing the lace curtains across the open window. Outside, insects tumble into a crack between a paving stone and some grass. Life goes on, but it will never be the same for Sol, who has not only lost her father. She has also said goodbye to her childhood innocence.


Dedicated to Avilés's own daughter, this is very much a companion piece to Joanna Hogg's The Eternal Daughter. The age difference between Sol and Julie is considerable, but the loss of a father places additional onus on the maternal bond and one fears that the happy laughter of the opening scene will become a thing of the past, particularly if Lucia meets someone new and has another child. That said, Lucia may feel an added responsibility to live for Sol for the foreseeable future, which could foster its own resentments down the line.


Any film that leaves a viewer speculating about the off-screen lives of the characters has succeeded entirely in enveloping them in the milieu. Avilés makes us care about Cruz, as well as Nuria, Alejandra, and Roberto, who all have issues aside from mourning a loved one. She does so with deft details and identifiable traits rather than with any grand dramatic revelations and, consequently, the circle she presents has an authenticity that is missing from so many family sagas that use antagonisms and acrimony to sustain heightened emotions.


Key to this is the remarkable performance of Naíma Sentíes, whose restless curiosity makes her a witness to scenes she doesn't always understand, but the audience does. Too young to be trusted with the truth about her father, she has started to figure things out for herself, as she clearly has a lot of time to reflect with Lucia preoccupied with her play. The fact she has to rely on a digital assistant to answer her questions is profoundly sad and the scene in which Cruz finds her in a nook seeking information about the end of the world is almost as affecting as the final gaze of cognizance.


The star of The Chambermaid, Teresita Sánchez is again effortlessly empathetic, while Montserrat Marañon makes it easy to feel sorry for Nuria, who is finding everything about her brother's illness hard to cope with. There's certainly no hiding place from Diego Tenorio's camera, even when Nuria is trying to shower before the guests arrive. Her growing stress in the kitchen is also caught with a relentless discretion that allows Avilés to control the overall tone without dictating the performance level. Omar Guzmán's editing and Thomas Becka's score also have a modulating effect. Thus, while the action is always intense, it's also intimate and immersive, while also offering hints of class satire and social critique.


QUEENDOM.


At the very time the Russian justice ministry is petitioning the supreme court to declare the `International LGBT public movement' an `extremist' organisation, Agniia Galdanova's Queendom examines the realities of being queer under Vladimir Putin. The fact that no such body exists anywhere in the world is of no concern to the homophobes claiming to be motivated solely by a desire to uphold family values. But, as this observational documentary demonstrates, there's nothing wholesome about the attitudes driving this pernicious agenda.


Gennadiy Chebotarev was born in Magadan, a port in eastern Russia that was founded in 1929 as a transit centre for those being sent to the forced-labour gold mine at Dalstroy. Raised by his grandparents after being orphaned, he created Gena Marvin to express a sense of otherness. In an interview, he tells the since closed Vogue Russia that Gena is a non-binary entity that doesn't equate with sexuality and gender. Hence, he continues to use male pronouns, even though he wears white lingerie and a fur coat to the supermarket and is dismayed to be asked to leave before he offends the old and corrupts the young.


Tall, shaven headed and sporting a monochrome variation on clown make-up, he cuts a distinctive figure with his friend, Yulia, who had been photographing Gena in the snow before their shopping expedition. She laments that aggression is on the rise in the town and we see Gena arguing with a woman urging him to act like a man from an upstairs window before he gets attacked in the street and returns home with a split lip.


Following his 22nd birthday party and a lecture from his grandfather about sorting himself out, Genndiy flies to Moscow to train as a make-up artist. We see some of the online clips that have earned him a following, including a hilarious shot of him running on a gym treadmill in high heels. But he takes his character seriously and, when a friend is beaten up by bigots for wearing stack shoes, Gena dresses in a flimsy white hooped costume with an 18th-century-style headpiece and makes for central Moscow on Paratroopers' Day. Stopped at the park gates after attracting suspicious looks on the Metro, Gena questions why it would be unsafe to parade in the park while dressed so provocatively. The inevitable insults and threats come, but there is no physical confrontation before Gena decides a point has been made and that it's time to go home.


Gena displays equal courage in attending a rally in support of Alexei Navalny wearing a white spangly top, blue gaffer tape shorts, and red tape leggings to match the colous of the Russian flag. Striding through the crowd, Gena is photographed by curious co-protesters before returning home to cut through the blue shorts with a sense of relief. However, the beauty academy decides to expel Gennadiy for offences against symbols of the state and he calls his grandfather with the news and he despairs of him for wasting his free education. When Gennadiy protests and says he can get a job, grandpa orders him to report to the army recruitment centre and beg them to take him and make a man out of him.


Having acted out a scene splashing in a cratered pool in a black tentacled alien costume, Gennadiy flies back to Magadan. He guts fish with his grandfather and helps grandma in the kitchen, as the radio news reports on border tensions between Russia and Ukraine. When Gena is invited to perform in Italy, however, she sees this as a chance to make a fresh start. Sitting beside a bonfire on the beach, Masha says it's a wonder that grandpa has remained so loyal considering how vehemently he opposes Gena's lifestyle. She also reminds her friend that they had always wanted to be famous and is doing what they love rather than struggling in a minimum wage job.


Gena performs a sequence squirming through thick mud on the beach and is silhouetted against the grey sky. It's not all grim grime, as a ginger tabby named Vasya is found as a parting gift for grandma. But grandpa gets into an argument over a pair of shorts and leaves a hand-washing message on the phone, as Gena prepares to return to Moscow after filming a sequence flopped in the seat of a chair-o-plane wearing a gold foil version of the Invisible Man's bandages.


Wowing a fashion designer who delightedly declares her a `monster' before casting her for a runway show, Gena takes his advice to live on her own terms and let her art speak for itself. She causes gasps when she boards a Metro train in an outlandish taloned white outfit that makes her look like walking coral. Next, a smear of bright red lipstick sets off a red skirt ensemble that is topped off with a print fur coat for a supermarket trip. Once again, phone cameras are out, as Gena goes about her business with a friend whose face is covered with Aladdin Sane-like stripes. They are shopping for Gena's birthday party and the crowd in attendance suggests she is no longer so alone in the big city.


When Putin launches his special military operation against Ukraine, Gena gets her friend Pasha to help wrap her face and torso in barbed wire so she can stride through Moscow in protest. She is arrested and the camera films other being detained at an illegal anti-war protest by uniformed personnel who are denounced as `Fascists'. With grandpa phoning about a court summons for failing to register for military service, Gena posts an appeal online for help in getting her out of Russia and an offer comes from Paris and a visa is arranged during a tight two-week window.


Feeling free to walk in a long black skirt without being stared at, Gena calls home. Relieved to hear from her, grandpa wonders if she's getting paid for wearing her costumes and jewellery, while grandma reassures her that they will do what they can to help from afar. Their love is evident and Gena cries at the end of the call because she knows the chances of ever seeing them again are slight. She also knows her grandfather will never understand her, no matter how protective he feels behind the bluster. But she's now free to choose her look, her pronouns, and her lifestyle.


A caption reveals that grandma passed away six months after Gena left Magadan. Another notes the draconian laws that have made it illegal to be queer in Russia, while a last condemns the daily atrocities committed by Putin's forces in Ukraine. In order to protest, Gena staggers through the streets in giant stack heels covered in a gory substance - and no one arrests her.


It seemed to make sense to use the names and pronouns given at various stages of Gena's evolution, so hopefully this proves acceptable, as one can only be lost in admiration for the courage of this remarkable artist-cum-activist, whose refusal to compromise and conform highlights the cowardice and moral bankruptcy of the prejudiced patriarchal regime she continues to oppose.


By opting against a cinéma vérité interaction, however, Galdanova leaves the viewer to seek the own conclusions about how Gena feels at key stages during her journey from Magadan to Paris and what she is striving to achieve with each performance. It might also have been useful to hear about her sources of inspiration and how she goes about making her extraordinary costumes out of papier-mâché, latex, and gaffer tape. A bit more about her late parents and the friends who support her in East Russia and Moscow might also have helped put Gena's situation into a wider context outside the heartbreaking contretemps with her grandparents, who are devoted to her for all their confusion.


Ruslan Fedotov's record of Gena's outdoor performance pieces have a formal elegance, but the real potency comes from the footage caught on the hoof, as Gena challenges her fellow citizens with her displays of daring defiance. Editor Vlad Fishex puts these sequences together with a pugnacious flair that, along with Damien Vandesande and Toke Bronson Odin's score, complements Gena's uncompromising energy and languid vulnerability. One can but hope she finds a platform and fulfilment in France and that Galdanova can catch up with her some time in the future to see where her frankness, flamboyance, and fragility have taken her.


FEMME.


One of the most tiresome aspects of features being spun off from shorts is that so many film-makers insist on burying the original work. Regardless of whether the decision is motivated by commercial or artistic factors, this frustrating practice prevents genuinely interested viewers from following a story's evolution. Not everyone who reviews films, let alone those who pay to watch them at their local cinema, spends their lives at festivals catching up with the shorts programmes. Yet many will be sufficiently invested in a feature to explore its development. Some directors have the gumption to put their early work online in order to encourage a connection with prospective viewers. The majority, however, do not.


Among them (and they have every right to be so) are feature debutants Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, who would rather anyone going to see Femme is denied the opportunity to see the 2021 short of the same name that had starred Paapa Essiedu and Harris Dickinson. They have been replaced in the 99-minute version and it feels almost disrespectful to hide their interpretations when they not only deserve to be seen in their own right, but would also prove enlightening to those intrigued by the expanded scenario. Clearly, however, you can't win `em all.


Taking a smoke break while preparing to go on stage at a drag club as Aphrodite Banks, Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) notices a man with a neck tattoo checking him out from across the road. Having rocked a lipsync of Shygirl's `Cleo', Jules realises he's out of cigarettes and decides to risk teetering on his heels to a nearby corner shop. As he's waiting to be served, Preston (George MacKay) comes in with his hard-knock mates and they target Jules. When he snipes back that Preston had been ogling him, he follows him out of the store and beats him senseless on the street.


Three months later, Jules resists the entreaties of flatmates Toby (John McCrea) and Alicia (Asha Reed), to stop moping at home playing a fight game and come out with them. Once they've gone, however, he takes the bus to a gay sauna, where he spots Preston acting tough in dismissing someone trying to hit on him. Realising that he hasn't recognised him without his make-up, Jules sidles up to Preston in the locker-room and they eye each other up.


Following him to the car, Jules slips into the passenger seat, still not sure what he's planning to do. Preston tells him to walk behind him and not let anyone see him enter the flat. But just as they are undressing in his room, they hear flatmate Oz (Aaron Heffernan) coming back early. Dressing hurriedly, Preston heads him off in the lounge, but Jules realises he can't wait for them to leave and puts on Preston's yellow hoodie and poses as a prison friend in order to make his getaway. At the door, however, Preston gets Jules's number and tells him to expect a text.


Getting home, Jules looks up revenge porn online and sees the numbers that the clips attract. Determining to humiliate Preston, Jules buys some new clothes and tools up with a kitchen knife when the summons for a meet arrives. Much to Jules's surprise, however, Preston takes him for a steak and asks whether he's got a fetish about having sex with a thug. They park up in a quiet place and Preston turns Jules to face a wall. When he's finished, however, he drives away and leaves Jules to make his own way home, Arriving to find a party in full swing, he resists Toby's drunken attempt to kiss him.


Nonplussed by Preston's behaviour, Jules goes on a series of dates that always end with vigorous, if inexpert sex. When he sends pictures of him posing in the yellow hoodie, however, Preston loses his temper and Jules wonders if he's blown his chance to get even. But another call comes and Jules risks filming them in the backseat of the car. Preston is furious and forces him to delete the video. But he can't stay angry and offers to buy Jules a better phone. When he apologises and coaxes him back into the mood, Jules urges Preston to slow down and enjoy the sensation rather than being ashamed. They kiss.


Arriving home to find Toby and Alicia waiting for him, Jules avoids telling the truth in explaining why he has been acting strangely and they all get drunk together. Sharing a bath with Toby, he's asked what he wants to do for his birthday and replies that he would like to go back on stage because he misses Aphrodite. Indeed, he often thinks she's the real personality and Jules is just a performance.


Still uncertain where he's heading, Jules calls on Preston at the flat and bumps into Oz and his sidekicks in the lift. Preston tells him not to panic when they're alone in a corridor. But Jules begins to feel uncomfortable when Oz claims that he doesn't look the type to have been in Pentonville. Fortunately, one of the gang puts Street Fighter on the big screen and Jules proves so unbeatable that he's accepted on the spot and even gets invited along for a night's clubbing.


While Preston seethes on the other side of the dance floor, Oz confides in Jules that he's got a short fuse and could explode at any minute. Feeling like he's got the upper hand, Jules fondles Preston under the table before getting up to dance with one of the girls. The sight of him gyrating confuses Preston, who goes outside to smoke. Jules finds him and taunts him that he wants to be dominated by a powerful man. When Preston admits he might be, they go back to Jules's flat, where he exploits the role play to film them having sex.


He comes down for breakfast to find Preston telling Toby and Alicia about the market stall he runs selling knockoff fashion and skateboard stuff. When he goes for a smoke, Toby invites him to Jules's birthday party, as he is jealous and wants to stir up trouble. Touched by Preston kissing him when he leaves, Jules can't upload the incriminating video and curses himself for getting in too deep.


Cutting up the yellow hoodie, he creates a costume for Aphrodite and comes on stage unaware that a nervous Preston is standing with Alicia and Toby. When he hears Aphrodite mock her assailant, he realises he's been duped and goes down to the dressing-room to wait for Jules. He's shocked to see him and tries to explain that he hadn't known that Preston was in the audience and that the act wasn't supposed to be revenge. But Preston snaps and lurches at Jules with a broken bottle. They fight, with Preston recovering from a heavy blow to catch Jules at the street door.


Escaping from a throttle hold, Jules turns to see Preston sobbing in foetal despair on the ground. Walking home, he finds a parcel on his bed. It contains a legit version of the yellow hoodie and he holds it tightly, still unsure whether he loves or loathes Preston and whether he can ever forgive himself for the compromises he has made in striving to trap him.


Despite some sloppy scripting in the final third, the excellence of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay prevents this provocative, if predictable picture from collapsing in on itself. Bedecked in tattoos and seething with self-loathing, MacKay again demonstrates his fearless versatility. But Stewart-Jarrett has the more difficult role, as he has to adopt four different guises in trying to get Jules back to Aphrodite by seducing MacKay and keeping their secret secure in the lion's den. Moreover, he also has to deal with the quandaries in his own mind, as emotions threaten to compromise his avenging femme fatality.


Aaron Heffernan brings palpable menace to Oz, but John McCrea and Asha Reid are saddled with ciphers and the clunky plot devices to bring about the denouement. Christopher Meigram's production design raises its own share of issues, as it's never made clear how Jules and his flatmates could afford such a spacious apartment when none of them seem to earn any money. At least we know that Preston sells drugs when not negotiating with minor European clothing manufacturers for his market stall. Yet he's never shown dealing and has no backstory to speak of beside a throwaway reference to where he got his car. The same goes for Jules, who is essentially a construct dictated by the demands of the narrative.


While their writing is flawed (perhaps the short was tighter and less convoluted, who knows?), Freeman and Ping direct steadily, with occasional flashes of flair. They are particularly good at tense silences, notably those between Preston and Jules during their early car journeys. But the combination of James Rhodes's jerky handheld camera and Selina Macarthur rapid cutting during the fight scenes removes any human element from the blur of sickening violence. That said, Adam Janota Bzowski's score makes better use of its pugnacity, as it ratchets up the tension at times when the pacing of the action does not. But the best craft contribution comes from costume designer Buki Ebiesuwa, who not only comes up with a couple of eye-catching outfits for Aphrodite, but also makes some witty fashion choices for Jules MkII and finds some ingenious uses for a hoodie in the same colour as Uma Thurman's yellow tracksuit in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003-04).


BATTLE OVER BRITAIN.


Since the 2014 short, Fray Bentos, revealed how British tank F41 got stranded in No Man's Land at Paschendaele in August 1917, director Callum Burn has set his sights on higher things. Based in Lincolnshire, Tin Hat Productions took off with Burn's Lancaster Skies (2019) and Spitfire Over Berlin (2022) and it remains airborne with its third feature about the struggle for aerial supremacy during the Second World War with Battle Over Britain.


With France having fallen, Britain faces the might of Nazi Germany alone. The RAF is kept busy holding the Luftwaffe at bay. But, as Squadron Leader Michael Cochrane (Tom Gordon) complains to his Group Captain (David Dobson) after losing two more men in a dogfight, they are outnumbered and need reinforcements. The strain is beginning to tell on Andrew Sharp (Arnold Voysey), but chirpy Richard Cooper (Micky David) calmly plays cards and the cocky Nathan Walker (Vin Hawke) naps in a deckchair before heading out again.


A new plane arrives courtesy of Nancy White (Hannah Harris) from the Air Transport Auxiliary, who just happens to be Cooper's girl. It arrives just in time, as new boy Laurence Stanhope (Chris Clynes) is scrambled before he can join fellow Arsenal fan Cooper in teasing Cochrane about Spurs. He does, however, sign up for the tontine Walker is running for the first from B Flight to reach 13 kills. But all he can do is vomit on returning to base after Sharp is killed in a losing battle with the fighters accompanying a bombing raid.


Walker tries to read the letter that Sharp had been writing, but Cochrane snatches it away and Walker shrugs it off by chalking up the kills on the hut blackboard. They barely have time to stash Stanhope's kit in the billet before Cochrane returns from a briefing with the Group Captain to respond to another call to take off. Much to his fury, Walker breaks ranks before the order is given and they exchange terse words back on the ground.


Cooper tells Stanhope that Walker resents Cochrane succeeding the squadron leader he had idolised after he was killed in his car by an opportunistic sniper plane. Consequently, he had adopted a swaggering maverick attitude that Cochrane tries to counter by letting Walker read the letter in which Sharp had sung his praises while also complaining about the incessant teasing that had made his life a living hell.


Suitably chastened, Walker takes to the skies for another sortie and they return to the airfield to discover that Cochrane has been fatally wounded. He whispers to Walker that he hopes they're still friends and that he does him proud as the new skipper. Distraught, Walker hurls the hut bell across the grass and is admonished by the Group Captain, who orders him to take a walk and clear his head. But Cooper is also in a dark place, as he wishes he could pluck up the courage to propose to Nancy, while being aware that he could be next.


After toasting the skipper with hooch in their cots, the crew have a lie-in the next morning. This allows Walker to have a chat with Nancy, who ticks him off for teasing Connolly (Conor Ó'Cuinn) from the ground crew. They're soon in the clouds again, however, as the three-man B Flight is called to prevent an attack on the base. Cooper tries to propose before taking off, but Nancy scolds that this isn't the time, as she has to get the plane she has just delivered to safety.


Naturally, Cooper is shot down and Walker is also wounded and unable to see through a spattered windshield. Watching helplessly, Stanhope manages to fight off the German on his tail and return to the smouldering airfield. Slumping into the skipper's desk chair, he sees the letters that have been left behind and an envelope containing the tontine money. Rushing to the blackboard, he wipes off the scores and throws the duster across the hut. It lands at the feet of two rookie pilot officers, who scarcely manage to introduce themselves before the phone rings.


Closing captions reveal that Fighter Command lost over 500 pilots and a thousand planes before the Nazis halted the invasion push in October 1940. Newsreel clips show the damage caused by air raids before Winston Churchill's quote about `the Few' concludes a tribute to the fighting spirit of the British people. This is why films like this keep being made, just as they are in countries like Norway, which has produced several `now it can be told' tales in the last few years.


They have bigger budgets at their disposal and are handled by more experienced directors than Callum Burn, who wrote the screenplay with his father, Andrew. Yet, while dialogue may not be their forte, the Burns have a respect for the wartime RAF crews that serves to remind viewers of the debt that they owe to their sacrifices.


This is clearly the intention of this drama, which kills off its designated hero early on and twice replaces him before the close. Tom Gordon capably conveys the strain under which most squadron leaders operated and his distaste for gung-ho heroics and off-duty joshing feels authentic. Sporting a slightly anachronistic short-back-and-sides that makes him look like Vinnie Jones after a head-on collision with Jack Grealish, Vin Hawke's snarky outliers is more like a relict from such Boys' Own comics as Victor, Valiant, and Hotspur. Borrowing a name from R.C. Sheriff's Journey's End, Chris Clynes's Stanhope has a postwar movie aura about him, although this can't compete in terms of spectacle or stellar wattage with Guy Hamilton's Battle of Britain (1969).


Burn's editing during the scrambling sequences cannily disguises the fact he only had one plane at his disposal, while his digital effects creditably depict the squadron in flight. Nevertheless, it's tricky to know what's happening in the dogfights, as they are composed of CGI images of swooping planes and cockpit close-ups that make it difficult to distinguish between the characters under the flying helmets and oxygen/radio masks.


They're even more caricatured on terra firma, with Sharp's PTSD jitters and Cooper's lovelorn pining being sketchily explored, although this makes them feel positively rounded compared to Stanhope, whose sole character trait is an affiliation to Arsenal. Ben Thatcher's militaristic score feels similarly familiar, but it avoids triumphalism in underlining the courage shown by ordinary young men who were willing to put their lives on the line for a cause in which they believed.



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