Pond Life

 

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A portrait of young people in Britain in the 1990s that fails to convince.

 

Pond Life

  

Somebody must think that the playwright Richard Cameron is a good writer. I say that because his play on which this film is based was staged at London's Bush Theatre in 1992 and has now been considered worthy of a screen treatment by Cameron himself. Yet this version, which is set in South Yorkshire in July 1994, strikes me as so ineptly written that it defeats the efforts of a not untalented cast. This feature film debut by stage director Bill Buckhurst may not be special but it is certainly not incompetent and Nick Cooke's photography in colour and 'Scope does make something of the setting, but everyone is the prisoner of what I can only regard as Cameron's inadequacies.

 

Pond Life is centred on the lives of a group of youngsters the oldest of whom, Trevor (Tom Varey), has reached his twenties. All of them live on a housing estate backing onto a small open green space the site of such items as a discarded sofa and numerous old tyres. There is realism in that (it reminds me of Clio Barnard's film about Andrea Dunbar, 2010's The Arbor) and that is in keeping given that several of the characters here have real problems in their lives. Yet the extent of these problems only becomes clear late on and there is much rather banal humour in the proceedings up to that point inviting easy laughs at their expense. This approach negates any sense of realism in the storytelling, a fact further underlined by the writing which suggests something closer to 1954 than to 1994 and by the use of soundtrack songs of a very old-fashioned kind composed for the film by Richard Hawley.

 

Late on some of the dialogue hints at the work's stage origins. Until then that is concealed, but at the expense of jumping around from one character to another in a way that destroys any sense of a central focus (the fact that Trevor and others are planning to catch the big carp in a nearby pond brings the characters together but lacks weight). The basic misjudgments emerge in two ways. One is the extent of the emphasis on comedy. Thus a love-sick gormless teenager, Malcolm (Angus Imrie), is so sent up that it makes no sense that he ends up as a suitable suitor for Cassie (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and, far more fatally, the comic portrayal of young Shane (Gianluca Gallucci) spying on lovers and hooked on women's underwear is utterly at odds with the serious issues of sexuality suggested. Equally unsatisfactory is the shaping of the material as is especially apparent in relation to the leading female figure, Pogo played by the talented Esme Creed-Miles. Key information required to understand her is withheld for far too long and even then we are given less than we really need. Admittedly, Los Angeles is as different from Yorkshire as could be imagined, but the authentic feel of a recent film set there underlines the fact that Richard Cameron's evocation of the mid90s is completely unpersuasive.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Tom Varey, Esme Creed-Miles, Angus Imrie, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Abraham Lewis, Ethan Wilkie, Gianluca Gallucci, Sian Brooke, Shaun Dooley, Siobhan Finneran, Julie Hesmondhaigh, Paul Rider.

 

Dir Bill Buckhurst, Pro Dominic Dromgoole, Alexandra Breede and Rienkje Attoh, Screenplay Richard Cameron, based on his play, Ph Nick Cooke, Pro Des Anthony Lamble, Ed Christopher Watson, Music Richard Hawley, Costumes Jonathan Fensom.

 

Open Palm Films-Verve Pictures.
99 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 26 April 2019. Cert. 15.