Albatross – Review

Directors: Niall MacCormick
Cast: Jessica Brown-Findlay, Felicity Jones, Sebastian Koch
Running Time: 90 minutes
Rating: 3rd
By Nicholas Maltby

Although Albatross is a poor film overall, it does have some merit in its positive, regenerative spirit. Coming of age stories often have this quality. But Albatross’s positive gloss on adolescent life is quite relentless: in almost every sense the film is not only trite, but kitsch.

It takes about five minutes to predict the plot of almost every kink and twist in its narrative: screamingly nubile young adult, Emelia, comes to meet nerdy, highly-strung Beth (Felicity Jones), who is feeling the pressure of applying to Oxford; Emelia, who works as a maid for Beth’s warring parents, exposes her to a life beyond books, and at the same time seduces her father, before the two girls go their separate ways. There isn’t much more subtlety in the full-length feature.

Pawel Pawlikowski’s 2004 film My Summer of Love is similar to Albatross in many of its essentials. Both are films that explore sexual confusion and adventure through two young female protagonists, and each is set in a remote rural community. Pawlikowski’s movie is much the better work: his characters are nuanced, with Natalie Press as Mona memorably embodying the unique combination of daring and emotional fragility that adolescence brings with it. In comparison, Albatross seems to have spawned its characters from a list of unimaginative plot demands: a pervy, handsome father figure – Beth’s Dad: failing author Jonathan Fischer (Sebastian Koch), his permanently moody wife (Julia Ormond), and a teenage girl trying to balance irrepressible sexual energy with growing up. The subversive energy Niall MacCormick’s film attempts to build up is therefore something quite the opposite: it’s positive rebellion only the most conservative, tedious middle-class man could dream up.

If there are redeeming successes in this film, most of them centre around Jessica Brown-Findlay, who gives the character of Emelia considerably more than the script deserves. Technically her performance is raw and unsophisticated, but Brown-Findlay sheds enough vivacity and intelligence on the role, she is able to drag the rest of the film along. Nevertheless, like the Ancient Mariner, Brown-Findlay can never truly break free from her albatross.