Niall MacCormick’s Albatross is that rarest of things; a genuinely funny, bittersweet, British coming-of-age tale that doesn’t make you want to pluck out your own eye and bat it around your head like a Swingball.
Niall MacCormick’s Albatross
is that rarest of things; a genuinely funny, bittersweet, British coming-of-age
tale that doesn’t make you want to pluck out your own eye and bat it around
your head like a Swingball.
Penned by first-time screenwriter,
Tamzin Rafn, the film follows 17-year-old
rebellious aspiring writer Emelia (Jessica
Brown Findlay) who takes a job as a cleaner at the English South Coast
hotel owned by frustrated author Jonathan (Sebastian
An anarchic free spirit, Emelia
befriends Jonathan’s bookish, Oxford-bound daughter Beth (Felicity Jones), irritates his dissatisfied wife Joa (Julia Ormond) and bewitches Jonathan
who’s struggling to fulfill the promise of his earlier bestseller. Before
too long she’s leading good girl Beth astray, introducing her to the delights
of smoking, drinking and boys, and has reawakened old passions in Jonathan who
offers to tutor her writing. But
when Jonathan and Emilia begin an illicit affair; snatched moments in his
office and the loo, it threatens to tear the girls’ friendship apart.
It’s almost inevitable that the
vivacious, worldly, yet still naïve Emelia will get involved with the older
writer and it’s just as inevitable that it will all end in tears but it’s to
Rafn’s credit that the film feels fresh, hopping playfully from comedy to drama
and doing justice to both. Much of
the humour is derived from real situations and the film opens with a scene the
audience know must’ve happened.
The teenage Emelia is trying to buy alcohol and is asked if she’s over
18 by the pimply shop assistant who can only be marginally older than her. Defiantly, she flashes her naked
breasts, almost daring the shop assistant to contradict her, before walking out
with the booze. It’s a throwaway
scene that tells you almost everything you need to know about Emelia’s
character. Sexy and provocative,
she’s still a child on a mission to shock. The chemistry between relative newcomer Jessica Brown
Findlay and Felicity Jones is fantastic, their relationship having the
breathless intensity of a girl-crush as the film charts the dizzying highs and
crushing lows of what feels like a real teen friendship.
Felicity Jones is as good as ever
as Beth. One of Britain’s
brightest young stars, she shines in the quieter, unshowy role of bookworm
Beth. Koch is wonderful as failed
author Sebastian, a man whose glory days are long behind him grasping
desperately at a last chance to feel alive by throwing himself into an affair
with a teenage girl. Without ever
straying into sleazy, he’s shallow and selfish, a bumbling middle aged man
playing the pretentious poseur in an attempt to live up to an idealised image
of himself as a great artist. Cast
refreshingly against type Ormond brings depth to what could have been a
two-dimensional stereotypical nagging wife role as Joa. A successful actress who’s put her
career on hold to marry Sebastian and raise two children, Joa is a woman filled
with regret and disappointment even before she finds out her husband has traded
her in for a younger model.
Sarcastic, angry and bitter, Ormond gets some of the best lines in the
Albatross belongs to
Jessica Brown Findlay though. Previously seen as the posh Lady Sybil in ITV’s Sunday
night behemoth Downton Abbey, she is
a joy to watch, delivering a brash, bold performance that’s smart, funny, sexy
and heartbreaking, and, for once, so is a British film.
There’s nothing new in Albatross,
nothing you haven’t seen before, but it’s a genuine joy of a film. It’s
sweet without being tooth-rottingly sickening, cute and quirky without being
annoying. A witty, intelligent
coming-of-age drama that doesn’t look out of place on the big screen, Albatross is a chance to see rising
star Jessica Brown Findlay before she goes nova.