Black Pond

Black Pond


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Will Sharpe and Tom Kingsley’s Black Pond is a savvy slice of debilitated middle-class family life. The film and its characters may not quite tally up to more than their quirky parts, but this is still an intriguingly idiosyncratic debut.

We start with mockumentary-style interviews with Tom Thompson (Chris Langham), his wife Sophie (Amanda Hadingue), their two late-teen daughters and their shy friend Tim (Sharpe). Snippets from each hint at some ruinous event that has riven them apart, while everyone has a take on what happened, why and who, if anyone, may be to blame. Snapshots of newspaper headlines branding them a murdering ‘Killer Family’ then lead us to extended flashbacks that play out their accounts.

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One day Tom is out walking their three-legged dog called Boy when he meets the sensitive, intense Blake (Colin Hurley). An uneasy conversation starts, eventually leading Tom to invite the stranger home. Tea, wine, then dinner and the night ensues, but tragedy strikes the next day when Boy dies. So the Thompsons call their artistic daughters back from university so that they can all bury the family pet together. With Blake.

Langham looms large in this pond. His performance as the abraded, occasionally fatuous Tom is at times wonderfully subdued and minimal, if a little over-indulged. He balances monotone words and pauses to that sly deadpan effect once seen in the likes of The Thick Of It. However, he’s been absent from any screen since his conviction for child pornography offenses back in 2007. Black Pond may well rise or recede depending on how welcome a return this is, despite Sharpe and Kingsley’s evident skill. This is only underlined by some of Tom’s lines seeming to channel Langham’s own experiences rather closely, especially when reflecting on marital distance, misguided actions and tabloid exposure.

Luckily, Amanda Hadingue’s depressed Sophie, ground down by her marriage and her own squashed ambitions, proves an able foil. Her spat remarks often provide the dark comedy to her hubby’s hesitant, frustrating decisions. A would-be poet, she’s inspired by the works of John Clare. It’s a knowing choice as the life and naturalist writings of the 19th century ‘Peasant Poet’ were beset by mental health issues. Colin Hurley’s eager, apprehensive Blake is presented with similar experiences and his arrival seems to be the catalyst or awakening for Sophie finally losing all patience with Tom and herself. Some might see it as contrived to have Blake’s behaviour explained so. I’m inclined to agree, but when Tom sticks him with the “care in the community” label he at least does highlight how oddball the norms are.

There are shades of The Royal Tenenbaums about this family, especially in the banality smoothed over the simmering fissures that can feel all too familiar for anyone watching. It’s clear that they’ve all been in this together for some period of time, although everyone beyond the three leads is less well drawn.

Simon Anstell’s cameo as an acerbic therapist reeks of unchecked improvisation and hits all the bum notes. The regular bouts of scratchy animation (skimming a stone towards The Life Aquatic?), although lyrically visual, also seem at odds with the sardonic realist tones. In contrast, Sharpe and Kingsley mine some moments of pathos, such as Boy’s choice funeral, for nuggets of jet black humour. With Wes Anderson as a marker, they’re already developing a mature, individual style and should be ones to watch in the future.

Reviewed on: 11 Oct 2011
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An ordinary family are accused of murder when a stranger dies at their dinner table.
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Director: Will Sharpe, Tom Kingsley

Writer: Will Sharpe

Starring: Chris Langham, Simon Amstell, Amanda Hadingue

Year: 2011

Runtime: 85 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


Raindance 2011

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The Royal Tenenbaums