This belongs to what could be called the British school of Miserablism, which tends to feature a downbeat story, often set on a crumbling council estate or in some other dreary environment, which would probably never get made were it not for the public bodies such as in this case the BFI and Creative England, the latter of whom fund British films made out of London.
It is a first time feature from writer/director Tom Beard, who describes his story as “a visceral and moving exploration of one British family’s life.” Despite the title there is certainly not a lot of joy in this family.
Aisha (Samantha Morton) is in deep depression after the death of her husband. I tell you this because it’s some time before this fact emerges out of the frequently mumbled dialogue. She spends most of the day either in bed or on the living room sofa, staring blankly into space. Her teenage daughter Vi (Emilia Jones) is doing most of the caring of both her mother and her younger brother Troy (Badger Skelton). Left largely to his own devices, Troy predictably gets into trouble when one of his mates involves him in robbing a convenience store.
The scene then changes as the family do a bunk from the family’s bleak redbrick house to the equally bleak static mobile home that they own in a seaside caravan park. It is out of season, so chilly and deserted apart from the friendly caretaker Lias (Daniel Mays), his sister Lilah (Billie Piper), who also suffers from mental health problems but in a livelier way then Aisha and Lilah’s young daughter Miranda (Bella Ramsey). Miranda is just about the most horrible little girl you could ever meet – rude, undisciplined and bossy with no social graces whatsoever. So inevitably Troy becomes best buddies with her, laying the scene for predictable, downbeat disaster.
Beard has gathered a first class cast for his film. Morton has played depression on many occasions and she does it well, though in this case the character tends to be annoying in her self pity rather than moving. Piper, who is also a good actress, does her best with her somewhat clichéd role and Skelton and Jones are very promising young actors, although they are encouraged to mumble too much in this in the search for “realism”.
The only sympathetic and totally audible performance from the adults comes from Mays, though he is puzzlingly involved in some obscure and arty symbolism involving two wild birds that he keeps in a cage. Arty symbolism seems to be something Beard is self consciously striving for in this. He’s very fond of unpeopled shots of set ups, where the characters previously were, which emphasise the desolate nature of the piece but otherwise mean little. And he is fortunate in his choice of cinematographer Tim Sidell, who composes them well and gets some beautiful shots of the also desolate landscape.
Mr Beard could learn a lesson from Ken Loach, who demonstrated in Daniel Blake how you can take up the cudgels on behalf of the unfortunate without making us lose the will to live. This is the sort of film which is aiming its sights at festival prizes and critical plaudits but is unlikely to have much appeal for the ticket buying audience.