Winterlong

 

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A family tale not without strengths but with serious weaknesses, too.

 
Winterlong

Francis Magee

 

David Jackson who both wrote and directed this film lives in Hastings and his use of locations in that area, admirably photographed by Ben Cole, counts as one of the best things to be found in Winterlong. I would add also that Jackson, who brings a real ease to his handling of the 'Scope format, is possessed of a sure directorial touch which seems to promise much. It helps too that Francis Magee is so well cast in the film's central role, that of a poacher named Francis, but unfortunately I find Jackson's work as a writer far less persuasive. Indeed, its weaknesses prove fatal here.

 

At the outset there are intercuts between Francis in the woods and his former wife in a car (a good cameo here by Robin Weaver). She is seen arriving at Francis's home, a caravan, bringing with her their 15-year-old son, Julian, played by the filmmaker's son, Harper Johnson. Her purpose is to deposit the boy with Francis but Julian is far from happy with her decision. What follows is a story that gives father and son the central focus, yet it also takes in other elements. Rather improbably, Francis has formed a relationship with a Belgian singer performing in Hastings, Carole (Carole Weyers). It seems that their long but rather loose attachment is to be cemented for, despite being decidedly younger, Carole is giving serious consideration to his proposal that they become engaged. In contrast and in more comic vein father and son when moving into a chalet encounter a neighbour who is a widow - this is Barbara played by Doon Mackichan. She sets out to woo Francis and keeps delivering pies that she has cooked. Meanwhile, at his new school Julian is drawn to a classmate, Taylor (Nina Iceton), but is then attacked by her boyfriend.

 

The various threads play out in due course but only in retrospect can one see where the main plot line is to be found. This uncertainty causes a lack of forward momentum as we move from one element to another feeling no sense of priorities. This drawback is exacerbated by other failings in the screenplay: tiresome minor improbabilities and omissions only filled in belatedly lead on to a key scene that feels totally contrived in the way that it is set up. Several players here are good, but I question the wisdom of David Jackson casting his son Harper as Julian. Be it the actor's fault or that of the writing, we never feel for Julian, while Francis with his weakness for women loses our sympathy by having it off with the tiresome neighbour even as he awaits Carole's response to his proposal. It doesn't help either that Winterlong contains some vague echoes of the 2018 masterpiece Leave No Trace and is left standing by it. In that film we observe the strong bond between a father and daughter while here what finally emerges is a tale of a father and son gradually forging a bond. Both scenarios require carefully considered dialogue and the right details, a fact that underlines cruelly the extent to which Leave No Trace had all of that while Winterlong falls short. I can salute David Jackson as director but not as writer.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Francis Magee, Carole Weyers, Doon Mackichan, Robin Weaver, Ian Puleston-Davies, Harper Jackson, Nina Iceton, Jonathan Christie, Anneli Page.

 

Dir David Jackson, Pro Flossie Catling, Screenplay David Jackson, Ph Ben Cole, Pro Des Janice Flint, Ed Gabriela Enis, Music Rob Lane, Costumes Charlie McGarrie.

 

Nox Films/University of Bedfordshire-Miracle Comms.
94 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 29 March 2019. Cert. 15.