Bonobo (3 stars)


Commune-set dramedy starring Tessa Peake-Jones and Josie Lawrence

While the father/son dynamic is a mainstay of narrative features, it’s less common to see a filmmaker explore the relationship between a mother and daughter. For that reason alone the premise of Bonobo is certainly promising, as it examines the strength of the maternal bond. But, despite the noble ambition of the screenplay – from director Matthew Hammett Knott and Joanna Benecke – and the talented performers, this potential is never quite realised as the story is often overwhelmed by its more farcical elements.

That was always going to be hard to avoid given its setting: a commune which advocates living according to the social behaviour of the bonobo monkey – resulting in frequent nudity and the use of communal sex as a way to solve conflicts. And it's here that straight-laced Judith (Tessa Peake-Jones) finds herself attempting to rebuild her relationship with wayward daughter Lily (Eleanor Wyld), under the watchful eye of free-spirited leader Anita (Josie Lawrence).

The relationships at play are interesting, and Peake-Jones is excellent as the fish out of water; however, much more focus is given to the wacky – and mainly naked – antics of the commune. While this is intended to highlight Judith’s uptight attitude, and to serve as a backdrop to her spiritual evolution, some of it comes across as titillation for its own sake. And the final reel revelation of Judith’s big secret feels more like a shoehorned twist than credible character development.

Still, focus on the performances and there’s much to like here. It’s always fantastic to see Peake-Jones and Lawrence on screen, and the pair are charming in their yin/yang roles. It's also refreshing to see such interesting characters being written for older actresses, and these women are well-rounded, with hopes, dreams and vivid spirit. For that, and for their creative achievement on a minuscule budget, the filmmakers should be applauded.

Selected release from Fri 5 Dec.

Bonobo - Official UK trailer


  • 3 stars
  • 2014
  • UK
  • 1h 23min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Matthew Hammett Knott
  • Written by: Joanna Benecke/Matthew Hammett Knott
  • Cast: Tessa Peake-Jones, James Norton, Will Tudor, Josie Lawrence
  • UK release: 5 December 2014

When strait-laced widow Judith (Peake-Jones) attempts to retrieve her wayward daughter (Wyld) from a hippy commune, free-spirited leader Anita (Lawrence) insists she stay for a while. Although the attempt to examine the maternal bond gets a bit overwhelmed by farce, it's fantastic to see Peake-Jones and Lawrence on screen.