The Runaways

 

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A film with one shining merit.

 
Runaways, The

 

The runaways of the title are three siblings led by Angie (Molly Windsor) who is all of sixteen. The others are Ben (Rhys Connah) and Polly (Macy Shackleton) and we first meet them when they are living by the sea in Whitby with their father (Mark Addy). An uncle, Blythe (Lee Boardman), suddenly appears having just completed a jail sentence, but what turns the siblings into runaways is an event that occurs out of the blue and ought not, therefore, to be revealed here.

 

The opening of this film shot in 'Scope and colour is striking and the stand-out feature of The Runaways is undoubtedly the way in which, thanks to Emmy-nominated photographer Phil Wood, it captures so well the beauty of the Yorkshire coast and of the countryside through which the youngsters pass as they seek the mother (Tara Fitzgerald) who had abandoned them. The cast do a decent job, but the film's director, Richard Heap, best known for television documentaries, has for this first feature unwisely opted to write the screenplay himself. The result is a work that never convincingly settles on a tone and sticks to it.

 

There is drama at the start when a corpse is hauled out of the sea after being caught in a fishing net and what follows is for the most part a flashback covering the preceding six days. Had this been presented as an adult drama in line with this opening, the film might have suggested a variant on the 1955 classic The Night of the Hunter since the children are pursued by their uncle who knows that an object in their possession - a locket - is worth a fortune. There is also a distant echo of Jack Clayton's Our Mother's House (1967), but the children are travelling with two pet donkeys and their adventures suggest a piece aimed at those who relish young adult novels. However, smuggling those donkeys on board a steam train which appears courtesy of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway - itself a vision that conjures up memories of The Railway Children - leads to a scene in which the children attempt to hide the animals in the train toilets and it plays like broad farce. Unconvincing in another way is the fact that the police are in pursuit yet singularly fail to apprehend them.

 

Early on there is some pub singing that brings to mind films by Terence Davies but thereafter songs on the soundtrack feature in a much more conventional mode.  That may, of course, be intended to take the tale away from the strict naturalism present at the start.  However, unless something totally fanciful and divorced from real life is intended it is always desirable that works describing adventures experienced by children should have an underlying sense of realism as always happened in the works of Arthur Ransome, for example. That bedrock is utterly lost here, and all the more so when the mother, a character unconvincingly realised, enters the story. The shifts in tone lead to complete unbelievability and undermine the good efforts of the cast and of the editor Andrew Knight. But the one person to emerge truly triumphant is the film's photographer and Phil Wood should immediately become the toast of the Yorkshire Tourist Board.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Molly Windsor, Mark Addy, Lee Boardman, Tara Fitzgerald, Steve Huison, Macy Shackleton, Rhys Connah.

 

Dir Richard Heap, Pro Richard Heap, Mario Roberto and Mark Thomas, Screenplay Richard Heap, Ph Phil Wood, Pro Des Mike McLouglin, Ed Andrew Knight, Music Andrew Swarbick, Costumes Eve Salter.

 

Slackjaw Film-Slackjaw.
113 mins. UK. 2019. Rel: 10 January 2020. Cert. 12A.