Lad: A Yorkshire Story

Lad: A Yorkshire Story

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

One of few large expanses of open land left in England, the Yorkshire Dales can seem idyllic but they're a tough place to live. Isolated, exposed settlements are at the mercy of the changing weather. It's particularly tough for young people with not much company or choice of things to do. Tom (Bretten Lord) is already having a tough time before the incident that throws his life into disarray: the unexpected death of his father. It's no surprise that he goes off the rails a bit and gets himself in trouble, but the intervention that results from this will have a surprisingly positive and powerful effect.

A simple, sweet story that has plenty of heart but rarely relies on sentiment, Lad: A Yorkshire Story was adapted by Dan Hartley from his award-winning 2011 short. Though it lacks the punch of the original - there's not a lot of story to spread acros the 94 minute running time - it's an impressively accomplished first feature. Still more so when one considers that it has a largely amateur cast. Lord, a graduate of local theatre groups, handles his weighty role well, avoiding the temptation to get too earnest. Opposite him, Alan Gibson plays park ranger Al with real assurance. Though it's his first professonal role, he shares a military background with the real man on whom the story is based, and seems to connect with the character instinctively.

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Also impressive is Nancy Clarkson as Tom's mum. In an environment where there's no room for self pity or emotional weakness, the bereaved woman responds to debt problems by deciding she'll learn to drive an HGV. Her practical focus leaves little room for fussing over Tom but there's a suggestion that, in this landscape, conventional mothering would not give him what he needs. As his brother escapes into the army, traditionally the place to become a man, it is Tom who has to shoulder new responsibilities, and his journey into adulthood becomes an organic part of a world still rooted in a traditional, cyclical understanding of time.

The other character here is the landscape. Towering over everything, those hills wield an inescapable influence. "A bit of weather never hurt anyone," we are told, yet Al's face looks etched by the weather, eroded like the limestone tors on the skyline. Every now and again, sunlight strikes the land like a smile, brightening the grey water to silver, the brown scrub blazing gold. Al tells the boy that when we die our molecules go back into the land. Tending it, he might be practicing a form of ancestor worship, as might Yorkshire-born expat Hartley with this film. It's a poetic tribute to a much-loved place but with the blunted, rain-washed edges the land knows well. Not brilliance yet, but a promising start.

Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2013
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After losing his father, a sullen boy finds life opening up to him again through his friendship with a park ranger.

Director: Dan Hartley

Writer: Dan Hartley

Starring: Bretten Lord, Alan Gibson, Nancy Clarkson, Molly McGlynn

Year: 2012

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: UK

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