Parky At the Pictures (9/10/2020)
(Review of The Widow's Last)
Hailing from New Zealand, Vanessa Perdriau has been on quite a journey. Graduating from the Met Film School, she worked as an assistant on the Jerry Rothwell documentaries, Donor Unknown (2010) and Town of Runners (2012), as well as Sarah Gavron and David Katznelson's Village at the End of the World (2012), before setting up her own production company to make a range of corporate and creative films. She also impressed with her first two shorts, Holding On (2013) and The File Room (2015). But it was The Widow's Last (2017) that established Perdriau's reputation after the concept took the £25,000 top prize at Pinewood's The Pitch competition. Now, there's a chance to catch up with this ambitious period piece on Omeleto's YouTube platform.
Somewhere in Ireland in 1847, as the Great Hunger enters its third year, Kathryn (Charlotte Peters) discovers that her last potatoes have the blight that has decimated the crop and left thousands in despair. Passing a neighbour burying a female relative, Kathryn hurries home to her young son, Michael (Sam Hardy). He is weak from malnutrition and she is so worried by marks on his skin that she decides to make a loaf from the last of their grain.
While out collecting firewood, Kathryn stumbles upon Edmund Kingston (Matthew Wolf), an English landowner who was out riding in the woods when he was shot by Sean (Damien Hasson), a rebel who has heard enough excuses and promises. Just as Kathryn is about to leave Edmund to his fate, having stolen his pocket watch, she turns to see Michael standing behind her and she feels compelled to take the stranger home to tend to his wounds. She even hides him when Sean comes to finish him off and packs him off to the local garrison with a hunk of bread she can't afford to share.
Anticipating the themes of and markedly less melodramatic than Lance Daly's Black `47 (2018), this is a beautifully made and thoughtful treatise on loyalty in a time of crisis. At its core is a faint echo of Alan J. Pakula's Oscar-winning adaptation of William Styron's Sophie's Choice (1982), as Kathryn is faced with saving a son whose very future might be compromised by her decision. Charlotte Peters conveys this anguish with a restrained intensity that prevents the action from tipping into melodrama. Moreover, Perdriau ends on a note of ambiguity, as we are left to wonder whether a dream has come true or whether a nightmare is about to begin.
Designed with unshowy authenticity by Felicity Boylett and evocatively photographed by Andy Catarisano, this capably captures the grimness of the Famine, although the drone shots of Glengariff Woods Nature Reserve feel as misjudged as the more fulsome passages in Luke Atencio's otherwise effective score. It would be nice to see Perdriau's earlier work, but there's enough here to suggest she will rise to the challenge if she gets to make her feature bow with Epie and the Moon Man, a proposed adaptation of Lisa Wingate's bestseller, Dandelion Summer.