Film Review: A Smallholding

“You won’t make it”

I should probably start this off with a full disclosure notice – I invested in this film! Well, it was peanuts really as sadly I don’t have enough money to be investing here and there but given how much I enjoyed the theatrical productions of Chris Dunkley’s Smallholding (at the Nuffield and then at the Soho), I was intrigued to see how it would turn out as a film and so joined my first ever Kickstarter campaign. And I have to say it was fascinating, I loved the updates that we got, lending a real insight into the lengthy film-making process and the unique pressures it brings with it so if you see a project you like the look of, I’d recommend digging as deep as you can. 

But back to A Smallholding as it has been retitled here, the film adapted by playwright Chris Dunkley and director Chris New who starred in the original productions but has moved behind the camera here (he was a busy boy indeed as he directed, shot, edited, graded and mixed it). and what a beautiful thing it is. I’m well-disposed to the piece already but it really does flourish in the new medium, its location in deepest rural Northamptonshire allowing scenes to be played out in the vast emptiness and quiet, really emphasising the totality of the seclusion that Andy and Jen originally sought for their sanity and seeing how it soon curdles into oppressive isolation.

Matti Houghton slips effortlessly back into the role of Jen, even more heart-breaking (if that’s possible) as the woman so determined to make a fresh start and David Hayler steps into the shoes of Andy well, bringing a palpable sense of the self-involved hipster persona that has proven so destructive and that is persistently hard to shake off. And there’s a canny move in introducing Johnny Flynn as a third character Tonkey whose presence is increasingly felt in the story – Flynn also provides music for the film, written and performed by himself which plays up the folky Englishness of the whole ambience, the idyllic dream of countryside living not quite coming to pass. 

New directs the film with a great eye for composition of a shot, often finding beauty and texture in the mundane and using a handheld camera brings an immediacy and uncertainty that reflects the tortured minds of these (former) addicts. The final scene with its quietly breath-taking confrontation is just gorgeous to look at and brilliantly put together. So I can proud of being a very tiny part of something excellent and can only commend the Chrises Dunkley and New on their perseverance with the project. I believe the film is being entered for festivals and so opportunities to see it should be coming your way – I’ll try to notify people if/when I hear.

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