Arthur Darvell

Cambridge Film Festival Review: Pelican Blood

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The Pitch: Suicide ain’t painless…

The Review: Bird watching is not the most likely topic for either a movie or a novel (this was adapted from Cris Freddi’s tome), so maybe it comes as little surprise that Pelican Blood is not really a movie about bird watching. (Think Back To The Future and time travel – not so much a theme, as a device to drive the plot forward.) So if there’s a theme here, then the trials and tribulations of youth might be closer to the mark. As we open on Nikko (Harry Treadaway), it becomes apparent that this is a man who’s struggling with life, and bird watching allows him to put aside his problems and spend time with his friends.

If you’re wondering what kind of people would be in to bird watching, then it’s a group of outsiders that seem to have been thrown together, and have grown together through their hobby. Bish (Ali Craig) is headstrong and passionate, Cameron (Arthur Darvill) is reserved and pragmatic, but they stand by Nikko through thick and thin. Most recently, that has been the disastrous repurcussions of Nikko’s suicide attempt following his break-up with Stevie (Emma Booth), but when Stevie comes back on the scene, tensions rise and matters worsen when the boys’ hobby leads them into dangerous territory.

British culture often has yardsticks of a particular theme to which its contemporaries inevitably get compared; in the late nineties, the prime example was Trainspotting, and while its influence is still felt a little, the TV series Skins is a more contemporary comparison, and certainly the casting and the behaviour of the youngsters has that fresh, rebellious feel. The central foursome are all excellent in their roles, although the supporting cast leave less of an impression, but it’s Treadaway and Booth that are asked to capture the true emotional core, and when they’re on screen the movie bristles with raw energy and all of the emotional notes sound true.

Things sometimes sag a little when they’re not the focus, and some of the sub-plots and motivations occasionally feel forced. But at the core of this story there’s an unbridled honesty about disenchantment and extremes of emotion, and Pelican Blood deals with some dark themes in a mature and realistic manner. Director Karl Golden keeps the pace up, and doesn’t allow the potentially pedestrian nature of birdwatching to interfere with the flow of the narrative. It’s a little more intimate than many of its modern day counterparts but also doesn’t suffer for that, just occasionally using the countryside settings to open up the feel, but there’s an emotional crescendo through to the ending which blends both the bleak and the positive to good effect. Darvill may now be the most famous name in the cast thanks to Doctor Who, but Treadaway is the star here and this is an effective calling card; he and Booth are both talents to watch for the future.

Why see it at the cinema: There’s a lot of raw emotion on display, so immersing yourself will allow you to get the most out of it. There’s the odd nice shot of birds flocking too.

The Score: 8/10