Richard Hawkins, 2005, UK, 91 mins
Ray Winstone, Jan Graveson, Lois Winstone
Everything has the stamp of a personal project: a certain formalism, a delight in being a little obscure, a feeling that the viewer's understanding and enjoyment are in a race to the finish with that of its writer and director, Richard Hawkins. That's not to damn the film: there are all too few films made in the UK that have such freedoms in how they are written and made, and fewer still make it to a cinema screen.
Ray Winstone (playing Richard) took the film on in a ten day break between Henry VIII and King Arthur. His lumbering, almost lugubrious presence is squeezed up a rickety flight of stairs to the room of prostitute Naomi (Jan Graveson) nine times in nine days. Fitting, given that the film was made for £47,500 and shot in nine and a half days. Richard/Winstone (it is very much a performance in his seedy underLondon vein) spends much of the film trapped in himself, wrestling his way through his character and many cigarettes as he struggles to express why he is visiting Naomi. He resolutely turns away from the sex she is expecting from him. An atmosphere develops whereby he moves to territory that is comfortable for him: introspection of her. We are left to presume that this extends to asking himself why he's there. It is disturbing territory for her.
The tension between intimacies of different kinds and between the motives of people caught in equivocal situations is the essence of the film. Expressing this through notions of what is private and what is public with a prostitute and a normalised client (who will either not want sex or will quickly come to love the prostitute) is far from new ground. Some of the tiredness so suitably etched on Naomi's face runs through the story.
Nevertheless, Jan Graveson's performance has a remarkable intensity that strains against the script's lethargy; she turns in a very creditable performance as an overly eloquent and caring prostitute. There are times when her abilities, her excellent movement and Winstone's bullfroggy integrity pull things through. There are times, too, when the claustrophobic and simple cinematography works well. But there is too much of the film which feels covered rather than shot by director of photography Ole Bratt Birkeland - in nine days it's difficult to see how it could have been otherwise - and where the story diverges away from Naomi and Richard in her room, interest wanes further. The subplots involving an ingenue prostitute and Richard's wife do not weave into the film as it seems they were meant to. The abused prostitute and evil pimp seem to have the task of representing the evil that fails to touch Naomi, whilst the role of Richard's wife (Katherine Clisby) is a thankless one. Her history is supposed to underpin Richard's troubled enquiries into - well, what exactly? - in Soho but the you're left with the gaps rather than the connections.
For all of this, it must be a strength that it's possible to see a film which has the advantages and disadvantages of not having had to attract significant funding to be made and is made in Britain with British characters, actors and British funding. And though it fails to master many of the tones it plays, it does produce some moments worth watching.