Black Mountain Poets (4 stars)

Black Mountain Poets

Jamie Adams directs Alice Lowe and Dolly Wells in a compassionate comedy

When we first meet con artist sisters Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells) they are – somewhat unsuccessfully – attempting to steal a JCB. Fleeing the scene, they end up at an isolated poetry retreat in the heart of Wales’ Black Mountains, where they pass themselves off as celebrated poetess duo the Wilding Sisters.

While the premise of writer-director Jamie Adams’ third film (following Benny & Jolene and A Wonderful Christmas Time) seems devised purely for easy laughs, his knowing screenplay, which is augmented by razor-sharp improvisation by the cast, actually runs far deeper. While there is plenty of hilarity – Lisa’s passionate reading of a Tesco receipt being a particular highlight – there is also a palpable sense of pathos.

Indeed, for all its Five Go Mad in Dorset-esque, decidedly British humour, this is fundamentally a moving study of the nature of adult sisterhood. Through their unforced interactions, the dynamic between the free-spirited Lisa and the more matriarchal Claire is slowly revealed, their tight-knit bond proving to be both support and stranglehold as they approach middle age.

And Adams certainly doesn’t shy away from exploring the darker reaches of their relationship; Claire’s desire for children, for example, is unrealised thanks largely to her managing of Lisa’s outlandish behaviour, itself born out of a lack of direction. This is a sensitive and honest portrait of two women drifting through life, clinging to each other both through genuine loyalty and a fear of being alone. And while there may be a love interest, in the chiselled form of tortured poet Richard (Weekend’s Tom Cullen), the focus is firmly on how his presence causes ripples, then waves, in the girls’ relationship.

The cast is brilliant across the board, particularly Richard Elis as the uber-Welsh Gareth, but Black Mountain Poets belongs to Lowe and Wells. Their exceptional comedic talents are perfect for this material, and their natural dynamic gives the film its narrative backbone and acts as a dramatic counterweight to the more farcical moments. And, as they stride through the glorious Welsh landscape, lensed in appropriately reverential tones by cinematographer Ryan Owen Eddleston, you can’t help but root for them to find the answers they seek by their journey’s end.

Limited release from Fri 1 Apr.

Black Mountain Poets

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • UK
  • 1h 30min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Jamie Adams
  • Cast: Alice Lowe, Dolly Wells, Tom Cullen, Rosa Robson, Richard Elis, Laura Patch
  • UK release: 1 April 2016

When con artist sisters Lisa (Lowe) and Claire (Wells) find themselves in an isolated poetry retreat in Wales, they pass themselves off as the celebrated Wilding Sisters. Hilarious and moving study of sisterhood, with a knowing script augmented by razor-sharp improvisation from a brilliant cast; Lowe and Wells are…