Nocturnal

 

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An interesting but imperfect film with two outstanding performances.

 
Nocturnal

Cosmo Jarvis

 

The best thing in Nocturnal is the quality of the two leading performances. The actors concerned are Cosmo Jarvis and Lauren Coe. Both of them have so far done more work for television than for the cinema although Jarvis made a mark on the big screen in Lady Macbeth in 2016 and added to that with Farming (2018) and with his truly superb performance in 2019's Calm with Horses. He is again on strong form here but is absolutely matched by Coe, an actress whose work is new to me.

 

Nocturnal is set in Hull which provides an unfamiliar location for the film. It begins shortly after 17-year-old Laurie (Coe) has moved there from London together with her mother, Jean (Sadie Frost), who had grown up in the city. It is at a sports track where she trains with other teenagers that Laurie first encounters a handyman named Pete (Jarvis). He takes an interest in her and she quickly becomes intrigued by him although he is almost twice her age. We know that Jean has brought her up as a single mother so the fact that Laurie is attracted to Pete can in part be explained by her need to find in a man a replacement father figure. But, if that serves to make us understand Laurie's behaviour, we cannot be certain what motivates Pete. He appears to be keen to avoid commitment, seemingly content to rely on a girlfriend (Amy Griffith) for sex, although she for her part is looking for more than that. Nothing outwardly suggests that Pete could be a paedophile but his involvement with Laurie raises doubts in that respect and the very title of the film hints at something uneasy. Indeed, the age gap between Laurie and Pete is enough in itself to earn Jean's disapproval.

 

Nathalie Biancheri who directed Nocturnal is also co-author of the screenplay with Olivia Waring although it is the latter who is credited for the original story. What they have created together is certainly strong enough to give the two leading players worthwhile roles: Coe is wonderfully natural and unforced and Jarvis has a role that enables him to express a certain vulnerability alongside a reserve that could turn out to be menacing. But, if all this is to the good, Nocturnal suffers from a sense of being ever-so-slightly off-kilter and that occurs on two distinct levels. As written, the film almost plays as a two-hander and for that reason feels curiously incomplete. There is no harm done in leaving Laurie's school acquaintances as subsidiary figures but her mother, given her disapproval of the central relationship, is kept so much to one side that her limited appearances undermine the credibility of the story. When it comes to the direction, the style adopted often expresses something akin to the British kitchen sink dramas of the 1960s and that is apt enough (Biancheri even opts for an old enclosed ratio). But at the same time, perhaps taking its cue from the film's title and the fact that so many scenes take place after dark, Nocturnal involves stylised use of colour so that some images even take on a near-abstract or symbolical connotation. This is adventurous, but it seems to be imposed from the outside. Just compare it with Tony Richardson's A Taste of Honey (1961) in which he created a romantic optimism that distinguished it from all other kitchen sink dramas and gave it a character all its own and one sees how this attempt at something different falls short. For that matter, Nocturnal carries echoes of one of the notable films made by the Dardenne brothers and that work triumphantly maintained a consistency of tone throughout. But, however much it falls short, Nocturnal deserves to be seen for the performances of Coe and Jarvis and any misjudgments by Biancheri in this instance do not discourage one from taking an interest in whatever she might do next.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Cosmo Jarvis, Lauren Coe, Sadie Frost, Amy Griffiths, Laurie Kynaston, Amber Jean Rowan, Patrick Connolly, Yasmin Monet Prince, Ella-Grace Gregoire, Daisy Farras, Jonathan Milshaw, Hannah Quinton.

 

Dir Nathalie Biancheri, Pro John Michael Day and Coco Marie Schneider, Screenplay Olivia Waring and Nathalie Biancheri, from Olivia Waring's original story, Ph Michael Dymek, Pro Des Luke Moran-Morris, Ed Andonis Trattos, Music Aaron Cupples, Costumes Rebecca Gore.

 

Rickshaw Entertainment/Resolve Media/Mor Productions-Wildcard Distribution.
84 mins. UK/USA. 2019. Rel: 18 September 2020. Available in cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.