Director: Niall MacCormick
Starring: Sebastian Koch, Julia Ormond, Felicity Jones, Peter Vaughan
UK Release date: 14 October 2011
Certificate: 15 (88 mins)
Take a once successful novelist, his nagging wife and intelligent, conscientious daughter. Place in an isolated location, where tourism and dreams of escape are the only major industry. Add a sexually precocious teenager, Emilia (Jessica Brown Findlay). The perfect recipe for a serious, yet heart-warming, British motion picture.
Despite funding by the Isle of Man, Albatross does not paint a cosy picture of the resort: bored youngsters wander the beaches, entertained only by vandalism and casual sex. The hotel ran by the novelist Jonathan (Sebastian Koch) and his wife falls far short of the idyll he conjured in his youthful best-seller: the guests are variously irritated by squawking seagulls and untidy rooms. And the frustration of the married couple – she channels her ambitions into a younger daughter, he pretends to write while watching internet pornography – echoes the dead-end atmosphere that pervades the film.
The script brings together the novelist and the teenager into a torrid affair, uncomfortably presented as a genuine meeting of erotic minds, at least at first. The observations of mundane school and business activity gives way to a dangerous affair. The teenager, believing herself to be a descendant of Arthur Conan Doyle, comes to accept her abilities and recover from the suicide of her mother: the novelist, if not inspired to write again, finds solace in a responsible job.
At its heart, the film’s morality is conservative and sentimental. The two teenage girls represent polar opposites: one’s a keen student, who needs to loosen up, the other a wild child who ignores her intellectual brilliance in favour of a sharp wit and brittle invulnerability. Of course, by the end, the naughty husband is punished for his affair, and the two girls have learnt from each other. Structurally, it is a straight-forward morality tale, reminding the audience of human’s potential, if they can only get rid of their albatrosses.
Yet the sparky sexuality of Emilia, and her powerfully erotic union with Jonathan, tells a different story: it is amoral, both observing their passion and imbuing them the only deep connection in the plot. With stereotypes shambling around the screen – the youngest daughter is a cut and paste cute child ballerina, the students at Oxford are posh, effete bores – the awkward characterisation of the lovers is a delightful diversion. Unfortunately, this ensures that the moral resolution is disappointing and forced: a sudden melodrama injected into a broadly light comedy. And the more serious moral issue, where the writer breaks the trust between student and teacher, and effectively seduces a vulnerable child, is ignored.
Although Jessica Brown Findlay gets to steal the show, her supposed best friend Beth (Felicity Jones) is a splendid, if under-used support. The less dramatic, but more interesting narrative of their friendship reveals some nuanced understanding of teenage friendship, before reducing it to a simple exchange of influences. When the final sequence suggest some kind of resolution, it feels trite: the characters may have found their circumstances changed, without any real evidence that they have learnt anything.
Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable slice of life, not caught up in a self-conscious gritty realism and pondering a few moral conundrums lightly. If the stereotyping, and simplistic renditions of the female performers can be ignored, it offers a marginally more subtle and uplifting insight into the tedium of small town Britain.
Visit this film's official web site