Boys On Film: Cruel Britannia
Dir: Ward, Leclerc, Wootliff, Khaou, Mair, Bradbury, Faryal, McSweeney,
Cert:18 • UK: 150 min • Peccadillo Pictures • May 28, 2012
There is much more to Cruel Britannia, the eighth release from Peccadillo Pictures’ successful short film series Boys On Film, than one might first imagine. The title’s pun may prompt a short and justified groan (the release date does after all purposely coincide with the Diamond Jubilee) but in spite of this, it is an apt one. It is apt because the ten films are themed by their country of origin and the fact that they all deal with the concept of cruelty on some level – it is unfortunate that the title is a pun because, to some extent, puns trivialise their subject and these films are anything but trivial.
The opening short, All Over Brazil, sets the tone and is as beautifully executed as it is heartfelt. Writer Jamie Havlin dares to set his tale in 1974, a ‘period ‘challenge that the director and crew rise to magnificently. The art direction, wardrobe, makeup & hair are so impeccable that the effect is entirely authentic; so much so you feel like you are watching something that was actually filmed in the ’70s. It is a story of a pre-teen son who is more interested in the burgeoning glam rock scene than he is in sharing his father’s enthusiasm for the World Cup, and when Scotland lose to Uruguay Charley bears the brunt of his father’s disappointment and anger. Excellent performances from the cast in the central roles, which include Iain de Caestecker (BBC3’s The Fades) as the son, galvanise an already solid production. Bolstered by a glam rock soundtrack that manages to make the brown and orange hues of the cinematography feel psychedelic, it is a highly evocative piece that resonates with a real sense of nostalgia that is intrinsically British.
This sensibility is thematic and continues to be intrinsic to each of the subsequent films. In I Don’t Care, the bland seaside town of Porthpunnet under its miserable flat grey sky reflects the daily routine of Luka (Iwan Rheon, from Channel 4’s Misfits) who cares for his bed-ridden mother, and is in stark contrast to the visceral Dan who oxygenates his dull life with danger. It’s a landscape that anyone British will recognise, as is Heathcliff & Cathy’s windswept and misty moors that provide the backdrop for Anthony and Kyle’s love story in the touching We Once Were Tide, or the urban megalithic tower blocks which set the scene for the disturbing and tragic Man & Boy. This sense of ‘British’ doesn’t only pervade the literal environments, but also the psychological and metaphoric landscapes of these stories. Chef’s Letter is a brilliant observation of British self-repression in a story which keeps you guessing who the object of the chef’s affection is. What You Looking At? on the other hand taps into the multicultural diversity of Britain and our innate ability to laugh at ourselves. Aleem Khan’s Diana is a moving film about transitioning Mohit whose tale of familial rejection is set during the days after Diana Princess of Wales’ death, whilst the binge drinking partying teen characters of Downing are an all too familiar British phenomenon.
These are interesting and well crafted stories from film makers that embrace the environments that are familiar to them. No matter how bleak, disturbing or dark the subject matter gets, the films are consistently beautifully shot. In Spring a young man allows himself to be dominated by a stranger in a dangerous yet erotic game of power. It’s a tale that examines the limit that trust can be pushed to between strangers, yet despite the dark nature of the tale, the story is played out in a windowless Georgian room with a glass roof that floods the action with light. Even the chiaroscuro Nightswimming, which is the weakest film in the anthology with its unconvincing story and dreadful script, is still great to look at.
The ten stories in this compilation vary greatly, and each presented world is quite different from its predecessor, yet they are bound thematically, and as such they make perfect companions. The result is a deftly curated collection of short films that for the most part are extremely well executed. The fact that these films have been selected from a canon of young and emerging talent in the UK is a wonderful footnote. If these are the stories they want to tell and make, then I am confident that the future of British queer cinema is in very capable hands.