Kelly And Victor

***

Reviewed by: Jeff Robson

Young love has always been fertile ground for film-makers. The immature intensity; the doubts as to whether it will all last; the fears over the other partner’s commitment; the asphyxiation and wounding with sharp objects...

Evans’s raw and heartfelt debut feature certainly isn’t afraid to delve into some dark (and often taboo) areas of sexual attraction. And if, in the end, his relentless focus on the pain (in every sense) and disappointment of his characters’ lives becomes a little too relentless there’s enough talent on display in all departments to bode well for the future.

The protagonists of the title are both young Liverpudlians, looking for excitement in otherwise mundane lives. Kelly (Campbell-Hughes) lives in a grubby flat and ekes out a living selling cheap greetings cards from a shopfront that’s only one chromosome up from a market stall. Victor squats in an abandoned school and works on the docks. A chance encounter in a nightclub sees a spark instantly ignite and after what seems like only moments they’re back at her place, sharing a line before getting down to the business. But during the moments of climax Kelly puts her hands round Victor’s throat and almost strangles him. Understandably disturbed, but also secretly excited, by Kelly’s intensity, Victor perseveres with the relationship, seeing her as a troubled soul who needs help, and gradually falls in love with her.

Despite the strong feelings on both sides (poignantly conveyed by the young leads) you quickly become all too aware that this is unlikely to finish up with a starter mortgage and Saturday runs to Sainsbury’s. Kelly has been deprived of her parents by bereavement and estrangement and scarred by previous abusive relationships. Victor is equally rootless, a gentle and thoughtful character yearning for the steadiness of family life (as symbolised by his big sister and surrogate mum) but without the drive or emotional toughness to cope with, or tackle, Kelly’s traumas. And both characters are trapped by their background – a Liverpool yet to see any signs of economic upturn, where the only alternatives to wage-slave poverty are grubby black market earners. Victor’s best mate Gaz (Walters) is a small-time drug dealer trying to bring him into the fold, while Kelly’s sex-worker friend Vicky (Keelan) takes her along to help out at a bondage/humiliation session which only emphasises Kelly’s doubts and fears about her tendencies. As the relationship progresses, these become more intense and Victor draws back, worried that Kelly mirrors a side of him he’d prefer to pretend didn’t exist. But the ghosts of her past are about to bring matters to a head...

Evans doesn’t flinch from the details of a sadomasochistic relationship but resists the temptation to cloak it in spurious glamour, managing to convey its transgressive “ kick” while making very clear that the reality is mundane, unhealthy (in every sense) and downright dangerous. And he’s equally good at conveying the more tender, tentative side of Kelly and Victor’s affair. This yields some beautifully played scenes where they escape the grimness of their lives with simple pleasures like a walk in the park or a visit to an art gallery (though the latter has enough images of doomed affairs to remind us that there are bad times just around the corner).

He also has a telling eye for an unusual, evocative image (unsurprising in a director with a background in shorts and music videos) and he and co-writer Griffiths (adapting his own cult novel) conjure up a salty, literate screenplay which eschews the “working class solidarity” clichés occasionally found in the genre. There’s little sense of community on display here, only a disconnected desperation where violence and brutality are never far away and the only redemption lies in basic individual kindness. But there’s little of that in any of the characters’ lives and eventually the constant dwelling on pain and misery becomes wearing and desensitising. Added to this, there’s a tendency to tick the boxes of the low-budget Britgrit template (plangent soundtrack from indie bands you’ve never heard of, lingering shots of urban decay) and throw every idea on the screen at once rather than let the story develop at its own pace.

It’s a shame because there are plenty of original touches. The contrast between the city and the beautiful countryside to which the characters dream of escaping (even though it seems to be populated exclusively by sadomasochistic bankers and drug barons using disused farms for an HQ) is poignantly delineated. And the initial adrenalin rush of the first meeting is supplemented by touching flashbacks of the couple chatting shyly as they walk back to Kelly’s place, sharing dreams that are destined to be unfulfilled.

Evans also coaxes excellent performances from a couple of very talented young actors. Campbell-Hughes, whose credits include everything from Casualty to Jane Campion’s Bright Star, is a magnetic presence as the waif-like but resilient Kelly, conveying a lifetime of trauma and an urgent desire to be loved despite her various addictions. And Morris, who has regular stints in ER and 24 under his belt despite looking barely old enough to have grown his indie-rocker’s beard, is the classic twentysomething boy man in all his confused, dreamy (and ultimately ineffectual) decency.

They’ll undoubtedly go on to bigger things, and I’m pretty confident the same will happen to Evans. There’s enough talent and flair on display to suggest better films in the future – as long as he realises that powerful, realistic drama doesn’t simply come from wallowing in grimness.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2013
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Two people trying to survive in difficult circumstances embark on a passionate affair
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Director: Kieran Evans

Writer: Kieran Evans, based on the book by Niall Griffiths.

Starring: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Morris, Stephen Walters

Year: 2012

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, Ireland

Festivals:

London 2012

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