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New Release Review - THE RUNAWAYS

the runaways review
With a pair of donkeys in tow, three kids flee from the unwanted attentions of their ex-convict uncle.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Richard Heap

Starring: Molly Windsor, Mark Addy, Tara Fitzgerald, Lee Boardman, Rhys Connah, Macy Shackleton


the runaways poster




What a beautifully strange film writer/director Richard Heap’s The Runaways is. A bona fide original, and a darkly surprising delight to behold. The mercurial tone of this cosy Britflick is set straight away, with the film opening upon wide angles of a fresh faced, sunny Whitby - fishermen setting off, that castle - whimsically soundtracked by an insistent folk strum. So far, the demeanour of The Runaways is that of gentle, family positioned Sunday drama. However, this amiable illusion is confronted almost immediately when said fishermen drag their net to deck and grimly find a body (with tell-tale painted nails) in their haul. Yikes!

Like the donkeys which the film’s central characters - a single parent family with three tweeny children - administer on Whitby beach, The Runaways (not to be confused with the Kristen Stewart/Joan Jett biopic, etc) is its own beast, a striking hybrid of form and shape which is nonetheless utterly charming, and which will, oh yes, take you for a fun and bumpy ride if you are willing to go along.


the runaways review

Headed by hapless single daddy Mark Addy (who never fails to cheer me up with his sporadic, transatlantic turns: he is a drinking man’s Stephen Graham), the family live in the sort of cheerful squalor which the Buckets also abided within, and, as far as this sort of existence goes, all seems well. That is until Addy’s estranged brother in law (mum has fucked off previously) turns up fresh from doing a stretch of bird for murder. He is a proper bad ‘un too, all glares and stares. The very presence of him turns Addy to drink and sets the kids a flutter, too.

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In fact, Addy is so perturbed by the presence of this villain that one night he drinks himself silly, so silly that the next morning when the kids go to rouse him awake they can’t because he has gone and died in the night. Dark enough for you? How about the following 10 minutes when the kids prop up Mark Daddy and attempt to carry on as normal, and even paint his nails pink (ah!), while gently rationalising that "he’s really cold now - the warm bits have gone up to ‘eaven." All of this is related with unequivocal charm and innocence, like the sweetest, family friendly version of Nekromantik you ever could imagine.


the runaways review

Thing is though, even these gently half-witted kids realise that living in a remote shack with the recently deceased corpse of their pudgy father isn’t practical and, seeing as their ne’er do well uncle is after a locket Addy Daddy gave the eldest girl, they embark on that great mainstay of children’s films: the municipal quest.

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Perhaps The Runaways is best thought of as a movie for children, an audience unjaded and open enough to find the joy in its dark and wilfully daft turns of drama. Case in point, the orphaned kids decide to take a couple of donkeys with them on their mission to find mum (a curious trope of British kiddy films: the journey across muddy countryside accompanied by a beast of burden, witnessed in Nativity 3 and 1999’s stop motion production The Miracle Maker), the presence of which lend a cushy surrealism to proceeding events.


the runaways review

What follows is a (non-primary) road movie, which blends the acausal pastoral of Terrence Malick with the best of CITV. My favourite bit is the low speed chase through Whitby town in the dead of night, where the lead girl (Angie - Molly Windsor) flees her dodgy uncle and his henchmen by hiding in the narrow alleyways of Whitby town - all the while wrangling the two donkeys she has purloined. Also great is Addy the daddy popping up post-mortem as a ghost in order to occasionally offer counsel to the youngest kid. Mum, it eventually transpires, is played by the great Tara Fitzgerald (as incredibly beautiful as ever, and here exploiting that nasty edge which she displayed in Game of Thrones). But despite its manifest geniality, The Runaways does not allow this third act maternal presence to facilitate any easy resolutions. This is because however weird Heap’s film gets, it is never anything less than convincing. The grieving whimsy of the children’s folly is sharply contrasted by the spite of the adults they encounter, and the harsh realities beyond the fairy tale confines of Whitby.

The Runaways is in UK cinemas January 10th.




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