Runtime – 90 minutes
Director – Niall MacCormick
Country – UK
Certificate (UK) – 15
Starring – Jessica Brown-Findlay, Felicity Jones, Sebastian Koch, Julia Ormond, Peter Vaughan.
Albatross is a British coming-of-age tale which premiered at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June this year and is scheduled for UK release in October. A trailer has also recently been released.
Albatross tells the story of Emelia (Brown-Findlay) and how she changed the lives of the dysfunctional Fischer family. The Fischer’s run a guest house in a sleepy seaside town. The father Jonathan Fischer (Koch) is a formerly successful novelist with writer’s block; the mum Joa (Ormond) is an increasingly frustrated former actress; and the daughter Beth (Jones) is an unsatisfied 17 year-old hoping to escape to Oxford University. When the rebellious and charismatic Emelia is hired as a cleaner she injects some excitement and danger into all of their lives. She quickly forms a friendship with Beth and, as an aspiring novelist herself, begins to receive tutoring from Jonathan. However, when Emelia and Jonathan begin an illicit affair, the girls’ friendship is threatened.
Albatross was made by first-time film director Niall MacCormick with Tamzin Rafn’s debut script and newcomer Jessica Findlay-Brown (pre Downton Abbey) in the lead role. Unfortunately, the results are mixed.
Screenwriter Tamzin Rafn grew up in the quiet seaside town of Worthing and spent her teenage years wanting to leave. The desire to escape – both literally and metaphorically – from something holding you back is an effective recurring theme in Albatross. In other areas Rafn is less successful. Her script delivers plenty of humour but precious little drama. There are a number of dramatic plot developments but the characters aren’t sufficiently well drawn for them to resonate with an audience. With the exception of Emelia, the players aren’t any more complicated than their one sentence description above. In contrast, Emelia is an interesting, contradictory figure – damaged yet full of life. However, her contradictions make her unrealistic. There appears to be little connection between the self-confident, well-read, exuberant young woman we see and the troubled past we’re told about (despite some hints at a darker side). The central figure of Emelia simply doesn’t convince; she is an arresting character but little more.
Niall MacCormick has previously directed television dramas such as Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk To Finchley and The Song of Lunch with Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson. Albatross feels very much like a television drama at times thanks to MacCormick’s straightforward direction, which does little to bring the film to life. The many scenes which take place in the guest house are particularly listless and feel almost like a soap opera. Jack Arnold’s simplistic and often intrusive score adds to TV-like quality of the production. MacCormick does a lot more with the exterior scenes, making great use of the stunning Isle of Man location. He also draws some fine performances from his cast, especially Jessica Brown-Findlay.
Albatross tells a familiar story in a largely uninspired and superficial way. Jessica Brown-Findlay excels and there are moments of great humour but ultimately the film is unsatisfying. Fans of this kind of drama should wait for the DVD release or television screening – Albatross is better suited to the living room than the cinema.