Rare Beasts (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Billie Piper, UK, 2019, 91 mins

Cast:  Billie Piper, Leo Bill, Kerry Fox, David Thewlis

Review by Carol Allen

Former Dr Who star Billie Piper is a talented actress, who most recently starred in the highly praised tv series I Hate Suzy, which she developed with playwright Lucy Prebble, who also lends a bit of friendly support here on Rare Beasts, Piper’s feature film debut as a writer/director.  

Piper also stars in Rare Beasts, which she describes as a dark, funny, failed love story – a sort of anti-rom com.  It doesn’t totally succeed and is at times a bit confusing but it is never without interest.

Piper plays single mother Mandy, who is involved in an unlikely relationship with Pete (Leo Bill).  We first meet them on what seems to be a disastrous first date, in which he comes over as a bit of an old fashioned misogynist.  He’s not even that good looking – bit of a nerd actually –  but for some reason Mandy continues with the relationship. 

Mind you, she has her drawbacks.   She’s a feisty and difficult woman, who is dead confused about what being a woman means in an age of feminism, post feminism, radical feminism and any other form of feminism to which you can prefix another word. Her small son Larch (Toby Woolf) is also a bit of a nightmare.  He has the face of a little angel and the temperament of a devil.  The tantrum he throws when first meeting Pete is a tempest of the first order.

Mandy’s confusion about life and woman’s place in it is exacerbated by her feelings with regard to her parents’ relationship.  Although separated for many years Louise (Kerry Fox), who’s dying from what appears to be the effects of the constant cigarette in her mouth and Vic (David Thewlis) still appear to have an unbreakable connection. 

The other women in the film – Mandy’s friends and colleagues, young women she passes in the street – act as an informal, disparate chorus of comment on the stresses and strains of being female in today’s world.  

The film has a manic energy which is invigorating, exhausting and sometimes bewildering.  One of the vigorous highlights of the film is when Pete takes Mandy to a family wedding in Greece, where the bride (Lily James) who describes herself as a “post post post feminist”, has chosen a wedding ceremony full of promises to obey her husband and officiated by a manic priest.  Said bride then kicks off the wedding reception dancing with a mad pas de deux with her bridegroom, in which she nearly falls out of her revealing bridal frock.

Piper uses some interesting visual devices in her story telling, which provide some of the film’s most effective moments.   Use of some striking locations where the action is played out in long shot, including the exterior of Tate Modern, give the film something of a theatrical feel.  And towards the end there is a fantasy sequence about Mandy’s family history shot in what appears to be an actual deserted theatre, which had me thinking maybe this particular story might work rather well if told as a play rather than a film.

Rare Beasts is in cinemas and on digital release from 21st May