Directed by Richard E. Grant. UK. 2005.

Cast: Gabriel Byrne, Emily Watson, Nicholas Hoult, Miranda Richardson, Julie Walters, Celia Imrie

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This debut feature from Richard E. Grant is a semi-autobiographical tale based on Grant’s own youth in Swaziland, where the story is based, and like most rites of passage deals with issues of love, family and the role of the home in these – all the characters lose love, regain love, question love and ultimately driven by love for each other.  

What is so impressive about the film is the attention to detail of the set design, costumes and making us aware that this is the late 1960s/early 1970s (all too easily this could have been set in the 1950s, but then again Grant is of a new generation of actors/directors), which in itself was a huge transition for British people in terms of culture with the swinging 60s ending and the beginning of the youth culture appearing.

When a well known actor decides to get behind the camera it normally is an autobiographical piece with great performances but unfortunately a lack of cinematic vigour, not so with Grant.  We have a film book-ended by the lush landscape (which is a genuine luxury to have a location) of which we see panning shots from left to right to connote the journey Ralph is taking; many scenes usually end with the setting of a sun or the turning off of a light making us aware of the moment but placing the text within the landscape.  The film uses the narrative efficiently avoiding any unnecessary scenes of explanation instead making us as aware as the characters – every incident is as new to the audience as it is to them – making the film continually fresh and sympathetic to the characters.

The performances are wonderful from all but special credit must go to Nicholas Hoult who as Ralph at 15 years old plays him with a wide-eyed belief and inner strength and Emily Watson, as Ruby the American air-hostess who becomes Ralph’s step-mother but the life force for the movie; what is so pleasing is that this is unlike a role Ms. Watson has played before and she pulls off the accent fairly well.  

The humour throughout the film is typically British making fun of the ‘Wah-Wah’ upper class language that was prevalent in colonised nations and the manners that go hand in hand with them.  An affirming, positive film about independence (for teenagers and nations) placing the future firmly at the feet of the youth for years to come.  At the end Ralph takes over the mantle of his father in stature and persona.

Jamie Garwood
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