Film Review: Albatross

The British seaside lies at the centre of an eternal paradox. For those of us toiling away in the big city, rushing off to enjoy sun, sand and seagulls seems an attractive proposition.  Yet, if you grow up by the sea, especially when you hit your teenage years, you cannot wait to run away and get lost in the metropolis.  For all its beauty and simple pleasures, the coast can appear the epitome of tedium to the young mind. This is the case for Beth Fischer (Felicity Jones) in ‘Albatross,’ who lives with her little sister in a south coast guest house run by their parents.

Beth’s mother, Joa (Julia Ormond) handles the day-to-day running of the hotel while her husband, Jonathan (Sebastian Koch), sits in his study attempting to overcome a bad case of writer’s block. Jonathan has written one highly successful novel followed by a pretentious follow-up which bombed badly.  Trying to come up with that difficult third novel is affecting his marriage and a mid-life crisis is looming on the horizon.  No wonder Beth is looking for a way out, based on her academic skills and a possible place at Oxford.

Into this set-up comes seventeen year-old Emelia (Jessica Brown-Findlay), who arrives with the force of a firework. Emelia is loud, brash, cheeky and (occasionally) downright rude. She also knows how to use her girl/woman seductiveness when required. After losing her job as a waitress, Emelia accepts the post of cleaner at the Fischer residence and immediately begins to wind-up Joa.

Beth and Amelia become friends, with the latter showing the shy girl the exciting possibilities that life has to offer. Jonathan also takes a liking to the new employee but for far different reasons.  When he discovers that Amelia has aspirations to be a writer (she claims to be descended from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), Jonathan offers to tutor her. The girl cannot help teasing and playing with the frustrated older man and it’s not long before the pair are frolicking in the downstairs cupboard. Understandably, this turn of events threatens Amelia’s newfound friendship with Beth.

The themes in ‘Albatross’ are not new to cinema but Niall MacCormick’s film still manages to be as fresh as the wind blowing in from the ocean.  Tamzin Rafn, who wrote ‘Albatross,’ claims inspiration from the 1987 picture ‘Wish You Were Here.’ The geographical setting is similar and Amelia walks in the footsteps of Lynda from that earlier film.  Both girls enjoy indulging in outrageous behaviour and cycling along the promenade.  But ‘Wish You Were Here’ is a nostalgic postcard compared to Rafn’s modern take.  The writer has added a new set of relationships and scenarios to the familiar concept. There are some lovely scenes, such as the two girls exploring the bounty from a stricken tanker which has spilled designer shoes onto the shore instead of oil.

Amelia has a back story in which she lives with her grandfather, played by the venerable Peter Vaughn, and her Alzheimer’s stricken grandmother. It becomes clear that she behaves as she does in an attempt to elicit the love and attention that she cannot get from her missing parents. She seems unable to comprehend the damage that might result from her naughtiness. You could say that the film’s title is a little overworked as everybody in ‘Albatross’ seems to be carrying emotional weight of one kind or another but this is a small quibble in what is otherwise a polished screenplay.

Julia Ormond, once the ‘next big thing’ in the 1990s, has matured into an accomplished actress, while Sebastian Koch (from the ‘The Lives of Others’) gives a convincing portrayal of a man thrown into terrible confusion by the arrival of a gorgeous cuckoo in the nest. Felicity Jones is good too, but her character was always going to be blown out of the water by Amelia.

Make no mistake; Amelia is a star-making role for Jessica Brown Findlay. With her eye-catching clothes and make-up, over-active mouth and bad attitude, Amelia is a delicious part for any actress but Brown Findlay seizes it with both hands and makes it her own. Her physical attractiveness goes a long way. When Amelia arrives at a children’s fancy dress party in a hilariously inappropriate costume she almost gives Jonathan a coronary. No doubt this will earn her a place in the hearts of many a man in the audience too. Beyond the looks, Findlay Brown invests Amelia with a depth that makes us love the character, even when she is behaving like a pain in the rear.

When ‘Wish You Were Here’ was released it made Emily Lloyd a household name.  She gained parts in Hollywood movies and, if the rumours were true, a pony from Steven Spielberg. But Lloyd never really went on to the great things that were predicted for her. Whether the same will be true of Brown Findlay remains to be seen. She has advantages over Lloyd; she is a better actress and already appears as Lady Sybil in ‘Downtown Abbey’.’  Whatever the future holds for Jessica Brown Findlay, ‘Albatross’ should get her off to a cracking start.

Director: Niall MacCormick
Cast: Felicity Jones, Jessica Brown Findlay, Julia Ormond, Peter Vaughan, Sebastian Koch
Runtime: 88 mins
Cert: 15
Release Date: 14th October

About Alan Diment

Is a freelance writer and film critic. A total film buff who lives and breathes movies.

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