Last Summer

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Last Summer
"Even in the darkest places it finds moments of joy and wonder, whilst the banter between the boys is beautifully observed and full of humour."

Remote villages can be tough places for adults to live, unless they have a strong natural preference for the quiet life, but for kids they're idyllic. Left to their own devices during the summer holidays, brothers Davy (Noa Thomas) and Iwan (Gruffydd Weston) run wild through woods and fields with their friends Rhys (Rowan Jones) and Robbie (Christopher Benning) and dog Rex. Rhys and Robbie's older brother Kevin (Steffan Cennydd), a teenager with a leather jacket that probably makes him feel like a rebel in this quiet corner of Wales, takes them on fishing trips when he can get away from farm work. It's a happy life until, one day, a shocking incident of violence turns their world upside down. The adults and children find themselves no longer able to understand one another's reasoning, but Davy is determined to find a way to intervene and bring the spiral of destruction to an end.

When adults are dealing with a crisis, children's concerns tend to get short shrift. Continually dismissed from the room when important conversations are happening, Davy struggles to understand what's going on. It makes no sense to him that his friends are taken away but he picks up enough to be worried about what will become of then. Meanwhile, caught in the middle, Kevin is boiling with anger and looking for someone to blame. Davy gradually realises that none of the adults understands this so it's up to him to find some way of resolving the situation before Kevin does something they'll all regret. He has to use all his ingenuity to get through to the people around him, and he also has to do a lot of growing up.

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Superb work from young Thomas anchors the film and all of the children give fresh, fully committed performances. The result is a film driven by the intensity of childhood emotion, from the exuberance of play to the stunned emptiness that follows the tragedy. The fact that we lack a clear adult perspective on that raises some issues - Davy's attempt to explain it follows a popular narrative that experts agree is usually false, and whilst it may well be the right thing to say at the time it risks entrenching beliefs that make real life incidents harder to avoid - but the adult actors, through their handling of the pivotal early scene, communicate something more complex. The film demands a lot of its older stars as they need to get across to the audience what they are hiding from the children, but they're all up to the task.

In places the film is a bit heavy handed with its revelations, perhaps because it's aiming to be accessible to younger viewers. Its 15 certificate reflects difficult subject matter and that early incident of distressing violence, but once it makes its way to home audiences it should be suitable for many younger viewers if their parents are ready to talk it through with them. What will be missed on the small screen is the dazzling beauty of the landscapes captured by cinematographer Mark Wolf. The contrast between all this natural beauty and the grimness of the world created by adults lies at the heart of the story.

If there's one other problem here, it's that the latter part of the film becomes quite episodic, seeming to reach a natural conclusion and then adding another layer again and again. This is a minor fault, however, in a film that navigates serious issues with respect for children's resilience and their need to find their own way. Even in the darkest places it finds moments of joy and wonder, whilst the banter between the boys is beautifully observed and full of humour. Most importantly, it captures the children's perspective on life perfectly and uses it to challenge adult assumptions about what's best for them - or for anyone dealing with trauma. The result is a cinematic gem.

Reviewed on: 01 Jun 2019
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Last Summer packshot
During a long hot summer in the 1970s, four boys roam free through a neglected rural paradise, until a tragedy strikes that sets them against the adult world and changes their lives forever.

Director: Jon Jones

Writer: Jon Jones

Starring: Noa Thomas, Gruffydd Weston, Rowan Jones, Christopher Benning

Year: 2018

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: UK

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