If you only see one carefully curated package of British short films this year…
This stellar package of short films care of Soda Pictures' New British Cinema Quarterly initiative throws up so much good stuff, we're going to give each film its own miniature review. So…
1. Long Distance Information (Directed by Douglas Hart) Stars Peter Mullen as a cantankerous Scottish lout (what else!) who's ensconced on his lazy chair and dividing curse-peppered hate bombs between his wife and the royal family. But an awkward phone call from Mullan's semi-estranged son shows us a different, more caring and vulnerable side to Mullan's character. Deadly simple (made with two main camera set-ups) and professionally executed, it's a satisfying exercise in creating an abrupt tonal u-turn and quickly presenting a large range of on-screen emotions. Well played to all.
2. Man In Fear (Directed by Will Jewell) This miniature essay on acute death anxiety rides on the back of an energetic turn from Luke Treadaway as a man who believes there is a national conspiracy to have him killed. And not just shot or poisoned, but that he must perish via some elaborate accident of natural disaster. His efforts to stay alive see him entering a police station and begging to be offered the sanctuary and security of a prison cell. This central philosophical conceit is strong enough to allow viewers to overlook the fact that the film has been constructed in the manner of a 'gritty' BBC cop drama. But's it's a sharp film that doesn't outstay its welcome.
3. A Gun for George (Directed by Matthew Holness) Written, directed by and staring the NHS-spectacled maverick behind the greatest sitcom of the noughties (Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, of course), A Gun For George operates as a kind of ironic, hard-boiled addendum to his phantasmagoric TV opus. Riffing this time on hard-man airport fiction (or, in cinematic terms, the joint oeuvres of messrs Bronson and Reynolds), Holness plays Terry Finch, a moustachio'd, tinpot vigilante who churns out gaudy page-turners in a caravan that's parked next to a pair of nuclear cooling towers. Like Darkplace, the film operates primarily as as a glorious melting pot of outre references and silly homages, and though it's a beautifully produced piece of work, it occasionally feels like a bunch great ideas and motifs that are all in need of a single central concern. Some very funny testicle-based humour, mind.
4. Scrubber (Directed by Romola Garai) The only female director in this compendium also offers up its best film, a genuinely mysterious and disturbing suburban nightmare about a young mother's fondness for various devient nighttime activities. Playing with the notion that childbirth inevitably leads to a life of parental servitude, it's a film which adopts an extreme situation as a metaphor for the realities of living life at the near-total service of another. Boasting beautiful wintery photography by one-to-watch cinematographer Kate Reid and a commanding, chillingly naturalistic central performance from Amanda Hale, the film presents Garai as a remarkable directorial tallent who clearly has a firm grasp of what cinema is and what it can be used for. Here's hoping its not too long before she decides to go feature length.
5. The Ellington Kid (Directed by Dan Sully) Those with a taste for Doner kebabs may want to give Dan Sully's amusing and perfectly executed anecdotal miniature a wide berth, as it essentially confirms all our deepest, darkest fears about where the meat comes from. A bungled gang stabbing leads to a face-off in an all-night fast food shop, and the masked assailants with their diddy flick knives find themselves up against the proprietors of the establishment and their gigantic meat carvers. Feeling like it would be the perfect opening act for a screening of Joe Cornish's Attack the Block, it's somewhat light and predictable, but the punchline is decent, director Sully clearly knows his genre cinema and he draws charismatic performances from the entire cast.
6. Friend Request Pending (Directed by Chris Foggin) The flirty Facebook friend request conundrum plays out across cyberspace between a pair of senior citizens – Dame Judi Dench and Philip Jackson – in this sweet, sitcom-y final short. Shot and constructed in an admirably no-frills manner (in order to let the performances shine through), it's humorous and charming even while the subject feels a little old hat. And there's a little surprise cameo at the end which adds little more to the film than, 'I've got some famous friends who owe me a favour'.
What new talent might this new shorts package throw up?
A hell of a lot, it seems. Romola Garai's Scrubber wins best in show.
A fascinating and necessary primer to the world of shortform British cinema. Joy of Seven?