Every now and then a real gem comes along that restores one's faith in the British Film Industry. Step forward The Scouting Book For Boys. A terrific movie that flits effortlessly between elation and despair, it harnesses impressively naturalistic turns from Thomas Turgoose and Holliday Grainger to a vibrant script from Skins writer Jack Thorne. What at first appears to be a touching 'coming of age' love story between a pair of teenage delinquents veers off into a twisted territory that packs one of cinema's most potent emotional punches.
In a beautiful opening sequence drenched in stark rays of sunshine, we're introduced to teenage friends David (Turgoose) and Emily (Grainger) as they roam around the coastal caravan park they inhabit. Parental guidance is conspicuously absent as they embark on plenty of mischief together, including an endearing sequence in which they pretend to be sheep dogs. When she discovers that she will be sent to live with her estranged father, Emily opts to hide in a remote cave on the shore with only David knowing her location. The young lad refuses to assist the police search and his growing feelings for Emily are thrown into turmoil when she tells him a shocking secret.
The two young leads complement each other perfectly and create a very authentic child-like rapport. Turgoose yet again excels at portraying the disillusionment of today's working class British youth, following his superb turns in This Is England and Somers Town. His performance allows us to tap into our own 'coming of age' memories through the sense of wonderment at the discovery of his sexual and possessive yearnings. The frequent POV shots of Emily's bare flesh reinforce this perfectly. As the object of David's growing desire, Holliday Grainger is unrecognisable from the sassy lass she portrayed in the woeful ITV series Demons. The talented actress conjures up the brittle persona of a girl kidding herself that she's a woman, with her attempts to exude a streetwise demeanour at odds with her own inate innocence and David's naivety.
The direction by Tom Harper does a wonderful job at juxtaposing the tiny figures of the children with the imposing landscapes that they explore, particularly the cliffs arching over Emily's hiding place. Interestingly, the movie's aesthetic is far from the bleak Ken Loach style naturalism one might expect given the storyline. Instead, warm pastel colours and the glow of summer dominate the visual palette. This succeeds in emphasising the increasing darkness of the plot twists through such a contrast in texture between the form and content.
The supporting adult characters are depicted in a grotesque manner that supports the sense that we're witnessing events through the subjective gaze of a child. In particular, Susan Lynch excels as Emily's downtrodden, hysterical mother who closely resembles Amy Winehouse after a night on the tiles. Stephen Mackintosh also lends his comedic flair as Inspector Kertzer, a somewhat tragic small town copper.
Thorne's script wisely concentrates on characterisation first and foremost, while delicately adding layer upon layer to the plot. Once we're immersed inside David's mind, the dramatic tension is ramped up to almost unbearable heights. By making us identify so closely with the character, his shocking actions later in the movie come as an immense shock and create one of the greatest emotional jolts ever witnessed on the screen. One scene in particular will leave viewers with a sickening feeling in the pits of their stomachs and is destined to be a major talking point.
Being a low budget, character driven British movie about distinctly uncommercial subject matter, the box office fate of The Scouting Book For Boys is hardly promising. This thoroughly engrossing tale deserves to reach an audience, as one hopes that such brave and powerful filmmaking will encourage others in the industry to invest in the unique and young home-grown talent responsible for this triumph.
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