Booked Out Film Review by G Hall

Check out a new film called 'Booked Out' by Bryan O'Neil. This is his first feature length production, and was a real labour of love for the director. The highlights for me were the performances by Sylvia Syms and newcomer Mirren Burke, who shone in her first feature length role.

I don't like to use the word 'quirky' to describe this film. However, you decide. A young artist-student spies on, photographs and ultimately helps her neighbours. Next door is occupied by Jacob and Jacqueline; a couple together for reasons not clearly defined. Whilst upstairs, lives Mrs. Nicholls. Ultimately Ailidh (Burke) has an effect on all their lives in different ways.

Although the film has exterior scenes, it is mostly shot in the block of flats where the protagonists live. This is both a masterstroke and problematic. To contain the drama in three flats (and a corridor) means that the character's subtleties are revealed without any unnecessary distractions. Also, that contrasts are revealed between the three flats in which they live; the subtle psychological variations of the sets themselves that back up their distinct interior characters. The fact the director used the same small flat for each set is a triumph of ingenuity. However, the London setting seems very wrong for this story. I mean, would a struggling artist, a widower and two fairly lost souls be able to afford to live in thirties-style apartments in a better off part of London? The director initially set the story in tenement blocks, and although this is a small point, it does itch.

I thought Sylvia Syms applied to Mrs. Nicholls the necessary intensity and pathos, giving depth to what so easily could have been a stereotypical character. Her performance was so intense that she often outshone the leads.
Which brings me to Mirren Burke's performance as Ailidh. Here she brings to the role a subtle wit and vulnerability which reminded me of Dee Hepburn's understated performance as Dorothy in 'Gregory's Girl'. And it's important to make clear that this wasn't just because she's Scottish. However, the humour did have echoes of Bill Forsyth's work (to these eyes at least).

Jacqueline, played by Claire Garvey, was a difficult role and she accomplished this really well. Rollo Weeks however gives Jacob too much 'Eastenders' style delivery for my liking. But together, they slowly manage to reveal the reasons for their situation and behaviours.

Finally, I think that O'Neil has largely succeeded in creating a worthy first feature. But some things do stand out as misguided. The deliberate 'Low Tech' look of the film (Polaroids, typewriters, no computers, etc.) I felt, was a bit of a cliché. Trying too hard to make the film appear 'special' and distinguish it from others. If the reasons were to create an 'out of time' feel and give 'individualistic' qualities to Mirren Burke's Ailidh, then why did it seem too obvious? Computers or no computers, the story would play out regardless. All said though, this film is worth a look.

(c) G Hall - Writer for Female Arts 2012

For cast and crew credits see IMDB

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