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  Pond Life Doncaster Doldrums
Year: 2018
Director: Bill Buckhurst
Stars: Tom Varey, Esme Creed-Miles, Angus Imrie, Gianlucca Galuci, Ethan Wilkie, Abraham Lewis, Daisy Edgar-Jones, Shaun Dooley, Sally Lindsay, Sian Brooke, Adrian Hood, Siobhan Finneran, Julie Hesmondalgh, Steve Garti, Paul Rider, Faye McKeever
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Summer, and Trevor (Tom Varey) likes to fish, and this large pond near the village in Yorkshire where he lives is the ideal spot, a small idyll where he can be at one with nature and his thoughts. Recently those thoughts have turned to moving away, since now in the mid-nineteen-nineties jobs in the north of England are scarcer than they were after the Thatcher years left their industries at a disadvantage, but he feels the people there should keep him where he is, and this troubles him. One such person is nicknamed Pogo (Esme Creed-Miles), who has been left psychologically damaged by a tragedy in her past, and really needs somebody to look after her, or simply look out for her...

Pond Life began, er, life as a stage play by Richard Cameron, who after a long time trying managed to get the thing onto film, from his own screenplay, which joined the ranks of British downbeat drama that were populating the nation's indie scene. It seemed that while the blockbusters sought an epic uplift emotionally, these works were keen to have the audience leaving in an introspective mood, possibly wiping away a tear, or at least feeling as if they had been told a few home truths about how tough life could be. While this example had its upbeat scenes, there was a sense Cameron and his director Bill Buckhurst (making his feature debut) wanted to lace humour into his serious business.

The trouble with that was, what might have succeeded at a night out at the theatre did not necessarily succeed at the pictures, and while the script predated him, there was a whiff of the Shane Meadows about it, so much so that this production appeared to be straining after both the same audience and the same effect on that audience. What this did was make you appreciate Meadows all the more, for when you could not ignore how work like this was falling short, you may be wishing you were watching one of his more accomplished meshing of earthy laughs and awareness of how grim life could get for those who were trying to get by without hassle.

With an ensemble cast concentrating on the younger actors, and older, more experienced performers more or less on the sidelines, Pond Life was an opportunity for those newcomers to show what they were made of, but alas with this script they could not help but come across as contrived and affected, less living, breathing personalities and more plot quirks and devices to set the scene and build a picture of village life that did not quite ring true. Not helping was that many of the cast were, it's difficult to say this considering their young age, but they were annoying to watch with their tics and airs, all of which could be traced to the material for they were not doing anything that Cameron's writing was not asking them to. If we were intended to sympathise with them, that was not the effect you experienced, by and large.

The jokes, such as they were, turned out to be observational, slice of life bits that might have prompted a chuckle or two had they been in any way convincing as authentic, and the sadder material designed to make the viewer moved involved stuff like Pogo eating cat food and crying or people generally being victimised, which was offputting rather than bringing you closer to their stories. It was clear the big event that influenced everyone in the village, whether that be the closing of the mines or the more personally shocking crime that seems to be on everyone's minds, was just too big to be grappled with over a cup of tea and a biccie, yet it was also too much for this film to bear, and its conclusion where Trevor, Pogo and their oddball pal Malcolm (Angus Imrie) go night fishing to land a near-legendary, huge carp was not enough to raise the spirits for long, especially those of most of the audience. Maybe something original for the screen would have been a better bet for this team: it did come across as an Oop North version of Harmony Korine's Gummo. Also: Space Invaders? In 1994? Mortal Kombat, surely? Music by Richard Hawley.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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