Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

It’s become a recurring joke between pals and I in recent years to respond to no- spoiler requests by making throwaway reference to an outrageous narrative twist that never actually occurs – my go-to personal favourite, for instance, with a film widely understood to be set in the real world, refers to a scenario involving some kind of dragon invasion.

There are no dragons in Magpie, but its central drama – demanding a leap of faith to begin with – escalates not from inner tensions but as a result of external events, which are employed and retained as plot devices for as long as they’re needed. The first narrative catalyst arrives in the form of an inadvertent killer bearing flowers and apologies. But the most misjudged of such occurrences appears about two thirds into the film, when its quartet of characters halt an unlikely pilgrimage to Cornwall to purchase some essentials at a corner shop; victims of bad timing, their stop-off is violently interrupted by a pair of petty criminals wielding guns, who having just robbed the store and left its sole employee in a bloody heap, decide to steal our protagonists’ car when their own fails to start up.

If being confronted at gunpoint wasn’t bad enough for our unfortunate foursome, the fact that their own car was also carrying the dead son of two of its members makes for a particular and peculiar trauma. Managing to hotwire the thugs’ car, however, our clan begin a hot pursuit along a country lane that culminates, sure enough, with a vengeful foot-to-pedal dash and the brutal hit-and-run of one of the petty criminals. I’m not sure whether it was intended comically, but in the immediate silence that followed this hysterical moment, I was the only one laughing.

Marc Price’s second feature following Colin, that zombie picture apparently made for under 50 quid, is an ambitious black comedy that promises claustrophobia from its very premise, which places four pals and their volatile interrelations in a K-reg Vauxhall Astra with a stolen coffin in tow and sees what kind of extreme situations might arise. Two of the four, Antony (Craig Russell) and Emily (Daisy Aitkens), have been separated for years; their son Simon has been killed in, we presume, a car accident. Antony was an absent father and is an alcoholic too, while his two mates Phil (Phil Deguara) and Craig (Alistair Kirton) bring their own baggage, in the form of, respectively, a romantic longing for Emily and a mounting monetary debt worth killing yourself over. (No Spoilers Please, We’re British.)

A lengthy prologue, which takes place at Simon’s wake in Emily’s house, sets the tone for Magpie: an awkward, semi-improvised film that wants to (and perhaps will) make you cry with tears of laughter and sorrow at once. Consistent with their setting, early scenes especially contain those immediately regrettable conversation-fillers that make one wish for a well-timed and –placed sinkhole. Angered as much by her ex-partner’s arrival as by his belated interest in their son’s bedroom, for instance, Emily yells at Antony, “Take your bullshit little garage-bought card”, a line whose meaning is as ridiculous as the emotion with which it is said. In the kitchen, meanwhile, Emily thanks Phil for coming, to which he responds unthinkingly, “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world”, only to stutter backwards by drawing her and our attention to his error: “what am I saying, it’s not a wedding.”

This line in particular recalls another emotionally clustered and narratively busy low-budget British film made in the last decade, The West Wittering Affair (2004). Like that film, Magpie stretches a short-subject premise to narrative length that does well to tell at least four different stories in one digestible whole. To use a phrase as clichéd as that image of two trainers hanging over neighbourhood power cables – a visual shorthand for salt-of-the-earth Britain relied upon here – this is an emotional rollercoaster of a (car) ride and a winning demonstration, after Colin, of its director’s expanding ambitions.

Ambition is a neutral term, of course, and does not necessarily equate to technical craft. Though its heart-on-sleeve qualities should win it fans and even a cult following, Magpie is outright clumsy at points (which, to be fair, has never done a cult classic any harm). Beginning a film by having its first line of dialogue coincide with the sound of a car engine being brought to a stop might be an intentional hint of awkwardness to come, but ending your film at sea (in possible homage to [film]Children Of Men[/film]) and overwhelming any would-be audible dialogue with the sound of waves is unforgivable.

Reviewed on: 22 Apr 2013
Share this with others on...
Aided by two of their friends, a former couple steal their dead son's body and set off to drive it to Cornwall, but nothing goes to plan.


Bradford 2013

Search database: