Lissy Lovett has quite a lot of time for new feature Norfolk, but is baffled by the sight of a narrow boat on the Broads.
Norfolk is a county in the east of England. It’s where I was born and grew up, and it’s my favourite place in the world. Not that many people live there, but those that do are often unconventional and self-contained. There were once many Air Force bases, fewer now, but I’d often see strange planes in the sky when I was growing up. Norfolk is generally flat, with skies that go on forever, and has a series of man-made lakes, called the Broads, formed by medieval peat excavations.
Norfolk is also a new British feature film, currently in cinemas, funded by Creative England, the BFI and BBC Films. It describes itself as a haunting thriller about a reclusive father and son, whose close relationship is threatened when the father’s violent past catches up with them. I enjoyed the film a lot, but I have some issues with its representation of both Norfolk and women.
It’s a decent enough film. I could argue that brooding men with violent pasts, dead wives and difficult relationships with their families have been explored quite enough already, but this basic premise notwithstanding, the characters are believable. The plot takes a few unexpected turns and some of the scenes have been put together in a really interesting way. It’s nicely paced, and what dialogue there is sounds truthful and is used sparingly.
The cinematography is appealing, and Norfolk the film does provide a sense of the slight eeriness of certain parts of the county. I would say that the orange and teal colour palette isn’t the most flattering of colour grades to choose though; the real county is more cornflower blue and yellow. However, the reeds, marshes, birds and overhead planes look great on the whole.
Where most films set in Norfolk fail is attempting to capture the distinctive accent and colloquialisms. I grew up there and even I can’t do it properly. But I can tell a dodgy Norfolk accent a mile off, or at least I thought I could. Whilst watching the film, I was convinced that actor playing the son (Barry Keoghan) must be a native of East Anglia, only to discover that he’s actually Irish. His performance overall is strong and his pitch perfect accent is the most accurate attempt I’ve ever heard.
The rest of the cast are also good, but sadly there isn’t another stand-out local accent. Denis Ménochet broods threateningly as the boy’s father; Rupert Proctor almost manages to be as idiosyncratic as a true Norfolk native; Sean Buckley perhaps strays a little close to pantomime villain as the Old Man; but Eileen Davis brings authentic grief to the role of the Old Woman.
Goda Letkauskaite is also excellent as the son’s love interest and all-purpose victim for the rest of the cast, but it’s really disappointing to see another part for a woman written with next to no dialogue and limited agency. Unsurprisingly, the “Girl” and the “Old Woman” (none of the characters have names) never speak to each other, so the film fails to pass the Bechdel Test by a mile. I fail to understand why, in 2016, films are still being made using public funding that don’t manage female representation at anything more than a basic level.
On a less fundamental and more superficial note, it’s also a little jarring to see a narrow boat on the Broads. The director, Martin Radich, says in the press kit that he had a childhood holiday in one, but pleasure cruisers are a much more common sight – you only really need a narrow boat on a canal, not on the wide expanses of the Broads and their connecting rivers. This is not quite as odd as the quasi-military compound in the middle of nowhere, manned by field working Eastern Europeans – what on earth are they doing there? Stealing the secrets of sugar beet farming?
Close examination of the film is fairly pointless though, as it’s too easy to pick holes in it. The son has picked up a Norfolk accent from somewhere, even though he seemingly only ever speaks to his non-Norfolk father, and later mentions that they’ve moved around a lot. If they have indeed moved around a lot, how has his father managed to build and stock an underground bunker? There are working analogue televisions, so is it meant to be set in the recent past?
Instead, let’s focus on the positive. Norfolk is 90 minutes of wide magnificent skies, plot twists and turns, and one highly accurate East Anglian accent. Add in a couple more believable female characters and I wouldn’t really want much more.
Norfolk is screening in the UK followed by Q&A sessions with the filmmakers.
Lissy Lovett is a Norfolk broad and tweets @lissylovett