What do you get if you take a canny but inexperienced director, a truly execrable screenwriter, a cast of reasonable actors and EVERY PLOT POINT YOU CAN THINK OF, and put them on the Isle of Man? I didn’t know either, but it turns out you get this. Albatross is a well-meaning film in which a slew of solid performances and an uncompromisingly beautiful aesthetic just about make up for the labyrinthine story and leaden script.
Beth (Jones) is sick of being at home; but until she takes her exams and (hopefully) scurries off to Oxford, she’s stuck behind the desk of the B&B her father Jonathan (Koch) bought twenty years before with the proceeds of his only successful novel. Since then he’s done little but complain about writer’s block and masturbate in the attic, an attitude which does nothing to endear him to Joa (Ormond), his frustrated shrew of a wife. Beth’s got quite used to hiding behind drab clothes and a revision textbook, but when the Cliff House’s newest cleaner arrives for her first shift things start to change.
Emelia Conan-Doyle (Findlay), who opens every conversation with “and yes, I am related to the Sherlock Holmes author”, is cool, confident, hard-living and possessed of a leather jacket – everything, in short, which Beth is not. The two girls strike up an unlikely friendship, and Beth begins to learn to rebel as aspiring writer Emelia relishes being so close to a relatively normal family. However, Beth isn’t the only one to have noticed Emelia’s charms, and Jonathan relishes the prospect of a beautiful and impressionable student to distract him from his literary failures. Could this metaphor be hammered home any more aggressively? EMELIA’S AN ALBATROSS THEY’VE ALL GOT ALBATROSSES LOOK THERE GOES AN ALBATROSS.
Perhaps I’m being unfair; after all, quite a lot of Albatross is thoroughly enjoyable. Aesthetically it’s a rare treat, with a warm and inventive score juxtaposed against the stark outlines of the Isle of Man; this is despite the fact that the film’s not actually set on the Isle of Man or, in fact, any other island, even though at one point Beth very clearly gets on a Megabus which has nowhere to drive but into the sea. Felicity Jones (Chalet Girl, god help us) is charming and totally convincing as nervy intellectual Beth, and both Koch and Ormond deliver as her stressed and miserable parents; Koch is particularly good fun when in sleaze mode, although once you’ve seen one German masturbating you’ve very much seen them all.
Relative newcomer Jessica Brown Findlay (Downton Abbey) was, regrettably, less good, overacting with all her might and doing a series of hammy Gemma Arterton impressions in the hope of nailing that kookily sexy thing that not even Arterton herself has quite got the hang of yet. Mind you, she’d have had a better chance if the script had been less dire; impossibly wooden deliveries from the Department of Emergency Exposition arrived roughly every eight minutes and were unloaded wholesale into the dialogue, wrecking perfectly good scenes with spectacularly stilted exchanges. This wasn’t helped by the fact that literally every minor plot point which could be wedged into the film has been – ailing relative, absent mother, lost ambitions, death of innocence, arbitrary party scene, it’s all there. Things have come to a pretty pass when ‘send the irritating little girl character into shot to ‘charmingly’ articulate what everyone is apparently thinking’ becomes a repeated motif out of sheer necessity.
I honestly did enjoy Albatross – it’s got a handful of great lines, some charming sentiments and a couple of cracking performances – but I will never, ever watch it again. Give it a bash if you fancy a night off from thinking, or simply to keep up with Felicity Jones’ career before it inevitably goes stratospheric in about two years, but don’t expect too much; after all, there isn’t even a symbolic albatross at the end. (Bet it’s on the cutting-room floor, though.)