Juliet Stevenson and Alex Lawther shine in Andrew Steggall’s delicate first feature
Writer-director Andrew Steggall’s delicately woven debut feature is a coming of age drama with a difference. A sensitive, pretentious teenage boy struggles with life-changing emotional upheavals, but there is an often more intriguing parallel process in which his mother is coming to terms with changes that will also leave her life transformed. It is a film with a very English reserve, in which unspoken resentments and repressed desires suddenly burst through the tranquil surface.
Beatrice (Juliet Stevenson) and her son Elliot (Alex Lawther) arrive in the south of France to clear the family’s summer home in preparation for its sale. It is clear that a once unified family is being dismantled. Elliot takes a shine to moody local lad Clément (Phénix Brossard) and initiates a friendship marked by a painful sense of longing. As Elliot begins to gain a clearer sense of his heart’s desire, an embittered Beatrice cannot let go of a past in which she had invested her own heart.
Departure is a gentle film that rests firmly on the depth of feeling in the central performances. There are echoes of Truly Madly Deeply in the way Stevenson’s character is consumed by loss and a sense of injustice. She is so pure and understated in her emotional understanding of the character that, once more, you lament how rarely British cinema has provided her with the roles she deserves. And, after his breakthrough performance as the young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Lawther impresses again with his ability to really get under the skin of a vulnerable, confused youngster stumbling towards a sense of clarity about his true feelings.
Departure is a film about the gaining of wisdom and self-awareness that can come at any age. It is beautifully filmed, tenderly felt and brilliantly acted, announcing Steggall as an exciting new voice in British cinema.
Limited release from Fri 20 May.