It may have opened with rain on the red carpet for world premiere gala of Jason Connery’s Tommy’s Honour, it closed with rain on the red carpet for the world premiere gala of Gillies MacKinnon’s Whisky Galore! but in between there was sunshine, laughter, drama, scares and excitement as the world’s longest continuously running film festival celebrated its seventieth birthday with the UK premieres of American Hero, The Love Witch, Yoga Hosers, The Rezort, Mr Right and The Last King, the international premiere of Slash and the world premieres of First Born and The Man Who Was Thursday, and more besides…
The Library Suicides (Y Llyfrgell) – Friday 17th June – Cineworld
The world premiere of the feature debut of Euros Lyn, director of numerous episodes of Doctor Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Casualty and Daredevil, after teaching the audience how to pronounce the title of the film in the Welsh language he went on to tell them that it was they, not the lenses it was shot with or how much time it took to make, which were the biggest difference between a feature film and a television episode, that they weren’t some abstract ratings number but real people in a cinema.
Based on the novel by Fflur Dafydd, as the dual names suggest it is largely set in the National Library of Wales, an institution which houses the papers of the celebrated writer Elena Wdig (Sharon Morgan) whose death following the publication of her novel The Truth in Lies has left her twin daughters Ana and Nan devastated.
To all appearances a suicide, her body found beneath the window of her upper storey flat, Ana and Nan were at her side as she passed and heard her last words, an accusation against Doctor Eben Prydderch (Ryland Teifi), the man who has now come to the library where they both work to go through Elena’s archived papers to research her life and prepare her biography.
Although they mirror each other in many ways, the twins are distinct: while Ana grieves, Nan is analytical, looking at the circumstances of their mother’s death with a rational eye, but together they contrive to extract a confession from Eben and an atonement for the murder of their mother by staging another suicide within the vaults of the library.
With Lyn stating the National Library of Wales generously offered the production “the run of the place” for which he was profusely grateful, that magnificent building is one of the key strengths of what is otherwise a fairly standard mystery thriller, albeit a well performed one whose production values are far and above what would be expected of a relatively modest independent production.
The other strength is the dual performance of Catrin Stewart, best known for her recurring role as Jenny Flint of the Paternoster Gang, last seen in Doctor Who‘s Deep Breath, demonstrating that she is capable of far more than that modest supporting role has ever required. Achieved solely with a body double and split screen filming and no digital alterations, each sister is unique and identifiable despite their identical appearance and clothing, driven and desperate yet neither ever less than sympathetic.
With ground up sleeping pills, rope and a gun at their disposal as though staging a game of Cluedo, they walk the carpeted halls of the locked-down library in unison like the twins of The Shining, but their plan is coming apart and the bodies are piling up as the lies and dangerous truths spill like blood.
Supported by Dyfan Dwyfor and Carwyn Glyn as the ineffectual night security guards Dan and Glyn, the film does become somewhat overwrought in the final scenes but is a worthy transition for Lyn to the big screen, confidently representing his intended themes of “the loss of memory, the loss of culture and the importance of telling your own story.”
The Library Suicides (Y Llyfrgell) is scheduled for release on Friday 5th August
Catrin Stewart has subsequently received the festival’s award for best performance in a British feature film
The White King – Saturday 18th June – Cineworld
Directed by Alex Helfrecht and Jörg Tittel, their feature debut based on the novel of the same name by György Dragomán, the world premiere of The White King was a red carpet affair attended by many of the cast and crew including Tomorrow Never Dies‘ Jonathan Pryce, Clash of the Titans‘ Agyness Deyn and The Last Witch Hunter‘s Ólafur Darri Ólafsson.
Opening with a stylised animated title sequence echoing Soviet propaganda accompanied by a discordant score by Joanna Bruzdowicz recalling Jerry Goldsmith’s Planet of the Apes, aerial drones patrol the streets as a prelude to a great sweeping machine bringing down the old regime, a new harvest under the banner of the White King.
Thirty years later, the anniversary of independence approaches, and playing barefoot by the river under the ever watching statue of statue of the trailblazer of the homeland are young Djata (Lorenzo Allchurch) with his parents, Hannah and Peter (Deyn and Stranger Things‘ Ross Partridge). It is a moment of peace in a harsh life of strictly regimented discipline, which changes when the security officers demand Peter accompany them, telling his son he is helping them on a project, when in fact they have allowed him a moment to say goodbye before he is imprisoned.
Hannah and Djata try to go on as though this is normal, that the infrequent letters mean that Peter is safe, but something has been broken and they are unravelling; a visit from the security officer spells it out to Djata: “Your Mummy is from a family of undesirables and your daddy is a despicable traitor.”
Now shunned by their friends and neighbours, having to beg for food and unable to obtain reliable information, Hannah refuses to turn to Peter’s parents for help, instead using Djata as a pawn, a go-between to his grandparents, the decorated Colonel Michael Fitz (Pryce) and the hard-hearted Kathrin (True Blood‘s Fiona Shaw) who furiously tells Djata she won’t talk about it any more even though he has barely asked her. “There is nothing we can do whether we want to or not.”
Set in an unnamed future country where advanced robotic playthings reside in the lounges of senior officials and knowledge of the advanced modern world beyond is suppressed, Djata is played by Allchurch with a constant wide-eyed earnestness which matches the overly simplistic black and white presentation of the politics.
Driven by the more experienced actors who allow Allchurch the space to perform in his feature debut, The White King is competently achieved and well acted but never rises above feeling that it is little more than a by-the-numbers military regime dystopia, less a story than an examination of a society, a setting in search of purpose.
Not so much The Hunger Games as The Peckish Games, without the budget to match the scope of that epic dystopia du jour The White King requires a compelling story to drive the action to set it apart from contenders, but instead all it offers is misery and disappointment, a drab parade of precision cruelty, ninety minutes of setup for a payoff which never arrives in any satisfactory form.