EIFF 2016: Timothy Spall and Juno Temple excel in David Blair’s latest
Recalling the grubby, seaside-based violence of Byzantium and London to Brighton but lacking the former’s idiosyncrasy and the latter’s fearlessness, Away brings together two very different British talents: Timothy Spall and Juno Temple. They’re reasons to be cheerful in an otherwise distinctly so-so offering from director David Blair (The Messenger) and debut screenwriter Roger Hadfield, a film that combines kitchen sink misery and crime thriller peril.
Fleeing the clutches of her pimp boyfriend Dex (Matt Ryan), Ria (Temple) heads to Blackpool with reluctant partner-in-crime Joseph (Spall). Ostensibly resilient, we’re shown how underneath she’s a scared girl clinging to a drowning man for safety. The flashback structure drip-feeds us how these two lost souls came together, an approach that at first disorientates and frustrates. However, Spall is mesmerising as a ravaged alcoholic; physically scrawny, his desperation is palpable as he inhabits the role with courage, bringing an authenticity seldom aided by capricious direction.
While mere existence is agony for Joseph, Ria’s lot is even more terrible and yet she remains an optimist, her positivity and childlike wonder intermittently wrenching the film from the mire. Temple is a typically magnetic presence and convincingly plays younger than her years. But the excellent Susan Lynch and Hayley Squires (soon to be seen in Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake) are wasted in slim roles and Ryan never really cuts it as the villain.
Blair thankfully resists straying into May to December territory, the relationship between Ria and Joseph all the more touching for its strictly platonic nature. Although the fairytale angle feels belaboured, this nevertheless results in a couple of striking sequences: Ria going about her cleaning duties as if waltzing with a prince; and entering into a neon nightmare as if being directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
With the emphasis on bald tragedy over careful characterisation and a tendency to swing back and forth, Away never really grabs you with the predicaments of those involved, relying heavily on fine performers to cultivate emotional interest. It’s a well-meaning, often superbly acted film with nothing very original to say.
Screening on Wed 22 and Sat 25 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2016. Selected release from Fri 7 Oct.