Film Review: Happy New Year, Colin Burstead

Ben Wheatley’s Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is an enjoyable comedy drama. The picture is lighter than Wheatley’s previous efforts, yet is a finely tuned affair.

Colin Burstead has organised for his extended family to celebrate New Year at a lavish country house which he has rented out. His sister Gini has invited their estranged brother David, which could make for an awkward reunion…

Written, directed, and edited by Ben Wheatley, Happy New Year, Colin Burstead features an ensemble cast as a dysfunctional yet convincing family. The film focuses on various family dynamics, playing with a number of different strands. The action takes place over a single day. The film begins as a situation comedy, before more serious issues come to light in the second half.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead features a great script (written by Wheatley with some ad-libbing from the cast). Interactions seem entirely natural; the Bursteads certainly feel like a real family. There are some very funny lines, delivered by a variety of characters. There are also some great setups. Wheatley excels in providing a lot of amusement for viewers.

In the second half of the film, the issues that have been bubbling under come to the fore. Whilst there are confrontations, the film does not necessarily resolve every issue in a neat manner. Wheatley frequently cuts between different conversations involving different characters, which helps to build momentum to the film’s more dramatic episodes.

Performances from the large cast are good all round. Neil Maskell and Sam Riley are given the most to do, and perform well. Hayley Squires and Charles Dance are also good, and Asim Chaudhry is very amusing as Sham.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is not a film of great consequence. However, it is an accomplished picture, and showcases Wheatley’s talent for comedy drama without a hint of violence.

Happy New Year, Colin Burstead is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2018.

Film Review: Away

Director David Blair’s Away is an inviting drama, with great performances from its two leads. The film tells a sweet story, despite some harsh circumstances.

Runaway Ria is trying to get away from her past. Joseph is in a desperate mindset. Despite their differences, the pair form an unlikely friendship in the seaside town of Blackpool…

Directed by David Blair with a screenplay by Roger Hadfield, Away is a drama with accents of a mystery thriller. The narrative is littered with flashbacks which offer both exposition and character development. The central strand is the friendship between Ria and Joseph, and there are a number of themes at play. There are overt and more subtle references to fairy tales. There is also a overarching theme of confinement which effects both protagonists.

As the film features numerous flashbacks, viewers must wait to see the backstories of both protagonists. In the first third of the film, it is not always immediately clear whether a scene is a flashback or present day. This can be a little confusing to begin with, but the distinction is clearer later in the film. It appears the emphasis is on the burgeoning friendship, rather than focusing on a chronological narrative. The friendship between Ria and Joseph seems authentic, thanks to the performances and a decent script.

Away is set in Blackpool, and the town is a fitting backdrop for the action to unfold. Sometimes the setting is used as a stark contrast to proceedings; the colour and light diverge from the bleak histories of the characters. Other times (the shots of the calm sea, for example), the mood seems to compliment the foreground entirely. Juno Temple delivers a wholly convincing performance as Ria. Timothy Spall is also great as Joseph; his controlled performance allows Temple to shine. Hayley Squires is also good in a support role.

Although the conclusion may not quite satisfy, Away is nevertheless a rewarding watch.

Away is available on VOD on 8th May 2017. The film is released in cinemas on 12th May, and on DVD on 15th May 2017.

Film Review: I, Daniel Blake

Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake is a brutally honest depiction of a life on benefits on modern-day Britain. The film’s realism is what packs a punch.

Daniel Blake has been told by his doctors that he cannot yet return to work following a heart attack. Nevertheless, the Department for Work and Pensions deems him fit to work. Trying to sort out the situation, Daniel visits the job centre, where he meets a single mother in a similar position…

Director Ken Loach has long been known for his brand of kitchen sink realism, and I, Daniel Blake typifies this. The film centres on a sympathetic protagonist, and how he navigates an increasingly difficult world. It is difficult not to empathise with Daniel in dealing with a Kafka-esque system, as the situation gets progressively worse.

Above all, I, Daniel Blake is a damning indictment of the UK’s benefits system. Loach highlights the failures of the set-up, indicating how it sets up people to fail. Moreover, through the story of both Daniel and Katie, the film relays the impact that these sanctions have on people. Loach champions the ordinary person, and this latest film is no different.

As the film progresses, the situation becomes increasingly bleak for Daniel. Yet there are still moments of humour to be found in the everyday interactions. Daniel’s friendship with Katie and her children is sweet, whilst his interactions with neighbours are amusing. Other characters are depicted in a less flattering light. The job centre staff, save for one sympathetic employee, appear stern and unbending. They are the face of an unhelpful and uncaring system. Dave Johns is convincing in the title role, whilst Hayley Squires offers great support as Katie.

I, Daniel Blake reaches its climax with a whimper rather than a bang. Nevertheless, this is entirely in keeping with the film’s naturalism; a high-tension ending would have felt out of place. Loach’s target is clear, and he fires successfully.

I, Daniel Blake is available on digital download from 13th February 2017, and on Blu-ray and DVD from 27th February 2017.