Frances Lea’s summery teen drama is captivating in the erotic tension between its young leads.
Hot, lazy summers, the kind that make people go brawling, go falling into bed with each other and maybe go a little crazy. If you find it hard to remember a time when we had that kind of weather, Frances Lea’s Strawberry Fields offers an intoxicating reminder.
Two sisters, Gillian (Anna Madeley) and Emily (Christine Bottomley), start working as pickers on a strawberry farm. It’s casual work. Very casual. Time is spent smoking joints and having sex. Gillian came there to escape her sister’s manipulative control. Emily, meanwhile, follows her and immediately starts trying to destroy her new relationship with Emun Elliott’s charming Scottish drifter, Kev.
Bottomley is darkly compelling as the troubled sibling, provoking Kev into rages driven as much by lust as fury. Elliot ricochets back an equally engaging performance, though poor Madeley gets caught in the crossfire.
She’s a good actress, but playing the shy, repressed character is harder and a lot less fun than being the bad boy or the bitch. Both sisters display an infantile quality, but while Bottomley can pass it off as part of her mild insanity, Madeley’s awkward naivety can feel clunky and overcooked.
According to Lea, Strawberry Fields was inspired by 'A Streetcar Named Desire', and there are definitely moments when the games being played create a similar electricity. Elsewhere, though, the theatricality is forced. Token gestures are made at filling out a back-story, but the characters mostly exist in an oddly dreamy void.
As a rites-of-passage movie, it also seems strange that Lea has cast actors in their early thirties. These characters only come together for a few days, and even allowing for a little midsummer madness, their volatile and intense feelings for one another can seem a little absurd. They would have been far more convincing coming from teenagers stumbling painfully through these emotions for the first time.
Tennessee Williams in the English countryside sounds wonderful.
A few false notes but the dark rivalries and erotic tension are captivating.
Beautifully shot and mostly well executed. Lea and her cast are worth looking out for.