The Movie Waffler New Release Review - WINTERLONG | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - WINTERLONG

winterlong film review
A man's existence on the fringes of society is interrupted by the arrival of his teenage son.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: David Jackson

Starring: Francis Magee, Carole Weyers, Doon Mackichan, Robin Weaver, Ian Puleston-Davies

winterlong film poster

Every grown man has this abiding fear/covert fantasy that somehow, somewhere along the line they’ve unknowingly fathered a child, and that at some point in the future their indiscretions will recrudesce. That somewhere out there is an undisclosed offspring, who has been tended to throughout infancy (the boring span of nappies and feeding and just carrying them around now mercifully over), and who will henceforth require our guiding experience (i.e., fulfil our middle-aged need for relevance). How else to explain this weirdly specific trope which sort of begins in The Kid and continues with various permutations through Three Men and a Baby, Big Daddy and several proxy sons like Short Round in Temple of Doom (and there is a similar dynamic in Rain Man, a mid-career high from Tom Cruise, who is the laureate of male pattern insecurity and vanity)?

In its first few minutes, David Jackson’s intermittently impressive Winterlong continues this conceit with brutal efficiency: a mother drops off her 16-year-old lad, Julian (Harper Jackson), at the hovel where her beleaguered ex, Francis (the utterly watchable Francis Magee), ekes out a roughneck existence. Problem is, Francis is a wild man, a hunter, a noble savage who has no responsibility to square society or social niceties: how on earth is he going to tend for this lumbering man child?!

winterlong film review

Fittingly for a film which stipulates masculinity, the initial cinematic canvas is that of a Western: all wide angles of the evocative badlands of Hastings (!) which Francis makes his stomping ground, severe environs where your man uses his various (Chav-ov?) guns to hunt down animals and pick up work for hire. The last thing he wants is this little drip hanging about and cramping his style with the impossibly hot Gallic rock chick (Carole Weyers) who sometimes rides into town and does her so-so punk routines in the local clubs. In a moment which made me laugh out loud, Julian happens upon his dad tapping Carole up behind the bins at the local club: "Who’s this?" she asks, "This is Julian, my son," he goes. To which Carole then asks, not unreasonably, "Are you serious?"

Turns out Francis is being serious, but I’m not entirely sure how on the level Winterlong is. We see Julian told to get to school by his dad, but the problem is that the night before he got pissed with him and ended up being sick all down his shell suit top. So, in a moment which stretches the credulity of anyone who has met a 16-year-old boy (where your self-consciousness is at its most painfully acute), he jogs on to the local school with dried vom still stinking on his jacket and everybody laughs at him. Yeah, alright. We go on to witness Julian awkwardly court the attentions of pretty Taylor (Nina Iceton), get slapped about by the school bully and struggle to come of age in the shadow of his ne’er do well dad.

winterlong film review

Winterlong positions us to respond to Francis mediating his wild lifestyle of romantic recklessness to accept the responsibility of being a father (cue applause). The thing is though, that never mind all the poaching and the bad guns, Julian really should be worrying about how much of an embarrassment his old man is. Acting the roadman in the club as he bops among the indie teens on the pull, all the while rocking this pork pie hat which would have been knocked off his head a long time back if he tried that shit in Caerphilly. Cringe.

It transpires that Harper Jackson is David Jackson’s own son, and I wonder if this role was initially written for when Taylor was much younger, but due to the infinite stretches of development hell, Winterlong never got made until he was a bit too mature for the part. It makes more sense if you imagine the kid is about 10 and just looks old for his age, not a mid-teen who is legally allowed to get married and have children of his own. The way Julian carries on - sneaking a peek at his dad having a shag, and then in the morning catching up in the same bed with Carole to "keep warm" - is simply weird.

winterlong film review

A veteran of narrative driven telly, this is David Jackson’s first full length feature, and it’s as if, afeared that he may not get another chance, he’s used all the genres in Winterlong. Although chiefly set within a Western milieu, the dependably ace Doon MacKichan (Collaterlie Sisters) jitters in from a midweek BBC One sitcom to play a wacky neighbour, and Owen off Coronation Street (Ian Puleston-Davies) checks in from the sosh to propose Serious Questions about child neglect. Problem is, if you’re going to engage in Social Realism, your film has to be, you know, plausible, but the antics of this lot edge towards the bizarre.

Still, that said, I didn’t half enjoy it, mainly for Magee, whose intensity provides the carried away narrative with grit and gravity. The action is related with an efficiency which is testament to Jackson’s televisual background, and there are clear aspirations towards a sweeping cinematic grandeur which has the imagination to avoid the poverty porn laziness of most low budget British cinema. In fact, the film cheerfully celebrates and qualifies the laddish squalor the characters live within, working towards an ending that is as surprising as it is refreshingly irresponsible.

Winterlong is in UK cinemas March 29th.

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