Written & Directed by Michael Pearce
Everything Beast is predicated on could become cliche so quickly in the hands of a lazy filmmaker. A serial killer is targeting teenage girls on the island of Jersey, England. The movie could be an investigative procedural, but it isn’t. There’s a dark romance between protagonist Moll and local poacher Pascal that could be something Twilight adjacent, but the director refuses to go there, though he will hint at it. What Beast ultimately reveals itself as is a dark psychological profile about a young woman coming into her own, shaking off the repressive elements of her middle-class upbringing and her label as a “damaged woman.”
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The Souvenir (2019)
Written & Directed by Joanna Hogg
She meets him during a party. He works for the foreign office, is older, and exudes that overwhelming sense of mystery and sophistication. They stumble through the first steps of a thing they haven’t entirely defined yet. She’s caught up in developing her first feature film, a story about a declining English city. He’s always bounding about for work. Then his secret comes out, divulged by a dinner guest and every single thing in her life goes spiraling. This is a semi-autobiographical film from Joanna Hogg which follows the character of Julie in the early 1980s as she sinks into the quicksand of a destructive relationship.
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Lady Macbeth (2016)
Written by Alice Birch and Nikolai Leskov
Directed by William Oldroyd
This is not a movie about Lady Macbeth. It’s not an adaptation of Shakespeare. It’s not a reimagining of the events of his play. This is a film noir, set in the English Victorian era, about a classic femme fatale, told from her perspective coldly and neutrally. She’s a child bride, sold off to a wealthy man so his son can have a wife. The problem is that the son has no attraction to her; we later learn why, and it’s not what you expect. Left alone in a dusty manor house, our protagonist seeks out the affections of a gruff stablehand, someone like she used to know before this life. The two engage in a torrid affair, the house staff knowing exactly what is going on, and this all leads to murder.
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Written by Jon Ronson & Peter Straughan
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
When given an actor like Michael Fassbender, a man with a handsome leading actor face and square jaw, the last thing you would think to do is put him under a paper mache head for ¾ of your movie. In doing this though the filmmakers give Fassbender some freedoms he might not be afforded in more traditional roles in films that call on him to be a smoldering lover or a dashing hero. The character of Frank is a cipher, created by comedian and musician Chris Sievey. Sievey used Frank as a way to express the strangeness and absurdity he might have felt too nervous about showcasing with his face revealed. The film Frank, very different from the real world Frank, is a mentally ill man who is unable to see himself as a valuable person and hides in this mask, which he sees as the ideal form of a face.
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Mr. Turner (2014)
Written & Directed by Mike Leigh
I loved Mr. Turner! We’re in an age of the most cookie cutter formulaic biopic. Look at films like Bohemian Rhapsody, which follows a rigorous plot structure that doesn’t provide insight into its central figure. It’s not a new problem; it’s just so prevalent. Mr. Turner has no interest in exploring the early years of the English painter J.M.W. Turner, there’s no scene which shows him picking up a paintbrush for the first time as if guided by a divine hand. When we meet the main character, he’s in the last 25 years of his life, past a broken marriage where he doesn’t claim his two daughters, and whose only human connections are with his manager/father and an occasional tryst with his psoriasis riddled maid Hannah. This is not a pretty story but an honest one.
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The Selfish Giant (2013)
Written & Directed by Clio Barnard
In a rundown northern England city, young teenagers Arbor and Swifty consistently find ways to get trouble whether it’s getting into fights at school or cursing out a parent. They cross a new line when they start stealing copper wire from local utilities and sell it to scrap dealer Kitten. Swifty finds himself drawn to the horses and Kitten owns and the scrap dealer can see the young man’s skill with the animals. Arbor feels the distance growing between him and Swifty, with the latter moving towards a better future than the deeply emotionally trouble Arbor seems capable of having.
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Written & Directed by Andrew Haigh
Russell lives in a small apartment in Nottingham, England keeping to himself and occasionally venturing out into the suburbs to visit his lifelong friend Jamie. One Friday night, on his way home from a house party at Jamie’s, Russell makes a stop at a gay club to see if there are any men he’s interested in hooking up with. He brings Glen home and begins a weekend that will quietly reshape his life and his feelings about his sexuality. Glen is very militant about being gay, studying to be an artist and wanting to make confrontational work about gay experiences, particularly surrounding sex. Russell is fully confident that he is gay but still uncomfortable being gay in a public sphere. His friend Jamie is supportive, but something else is holding Russell back. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, Russell and Glen talk, argue and have sex all while challenging the other about their ideas. By the end of this weekend, neither man will be the same.
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