BIFF Film Review: Magpie

   It’s not a problem many of us will face in our lives but for Marc Price, the director of Colin, the following quandary must have loomed large as he faced the next step in his career: “How do you follow up a £45 cult classic zombie movie?”

   The answer, somewhat charmingly, comes with the appearance of the delightfully crafted Magpie, a movie which marks a step away from the zombie genre but one which still has the fingerprints of death all over it. Equally importantly, however, is the fact Price’s new film has the fingerprints of life deeply embedded in ridges too; from a morbid premise grows a rich feature which, I do not hesitate to say, will easily be the year’s most feel good film about a dead child.

   Magpie stars Craig Russell as Tony, an absentee father who decides to make an alcohol-fuelled appearance at his son's wake whilst a duo of friends wait for him in what will soon amount to a get-away car. Held at his estranged partner's house, it's not a stretch to say that Tony is hardly a welcome guest; his neglect of the deceased is not something that has gone down well nor is his less-than-sober state. Yet, behind all the formalism of the event, the child's mother Emily (Daisy Aitkens) is uncomfortable too; the event seems to be too much of a ritual occasion, taken out her hands, which may not be something she wants to actually engage with - in a peculiar way, Tony's disruptive appearance is strangely welcome.

   Not so our next, disheveled guest who comes bearing flowers and a feeble, resigned plea: "I didn't see him." Drunken violence breaks out and Tony, driven on by grief and whiskey, finds his body acting before his mind can react, deciding to take his son away from all this chaos, escaping to his friends' car with coffin in tow. Emily follows and, quietly eager to mourn in her own way, agrees to set off on a road trip to who-knows-where with Tony, Phil (Phil Deguara) and Craig (Alistair Kirton) as companions; it matters not where they go, as long as they don't return to the intrusive, judging eyes of Emily's family.

   One startling moment occurs not too far into the feature which helps explain what could, in other circumstances, be unbelievable; it highlights too what a subtle, restrained, mature and powerful piece the film will unfold to be. During the wake Emily is preparing food in the kitchen, her family talk in a neighbouring room until one person lets out a slight moment of laughter, piercing the somber mood of the occasion. Emily breaks away from her task and looks out of the window, to nowhere in particular, for no more time than a few seconds but the void in her eyes is telling; it's a truly heartbreaking moment that puts into place the tone for the rest of the movie. We can see that Emily wants to be as far away from that kitchen, and from her family as possible. One simple quiet moment like this makes it not just easy to suspend all disbelief which may follow but, for anyone with compassion and empathy, impossible not to. Her fear and disgust of the moment she is in is palatable; I understand that she wants to take her son as far away from this as possible and, due to these graceful few seconds, I can entirely believe that running away with his coffin is bizarrely the most rational thing a grieving mother could do trapped in that situation.

   Magpie is a rather refreshing and wondrously exciting British film, eschewing the two main paths many film-makers from these lands pursue (these paths are, respectively, "Bumblecore" - rich white men struggle to talk: The King's Speech, Four Weddings.., etc and "Grumblecore" - people with regional accents being unable to express their rage: the films of Mike Leigh). It's mature and assured film-making which is not afraid to be weighty when needs be (and there's at least two scenes which are profoundly devastating to watch) and light, breezy and jocular when suited too. It's kind, it's funny, it's harrowing, it's heartbreaking - it's a movie which runs the full spectrum of human emotions without feeling contrived or forced at any point.

   Despite what could have been a ludicrous set-up there's pathos-filled and powerful truths to be found in the heightened emotions of extreme situations of Magpie. It's a film about death which reaffirms my love of life. It's a movie about dealing with death, dealing with dying and, just as importantly, dealing with life and living. Unlike Colin, Price's latest film is not a horror but, rather, it's a film about dealing with the horrors life can throw your way and emerging from them more human. A moving, delirious experience.

* Disclosure: After the film had screened I had a very pleasant chat with the cast and crew of the feature and was purchased a pint by Mr Kirton. Although this kind gesture has not affected my views of the wonderful film it did contribute to my well-deserved hangover the following morning.

* This film screened as part of Bradford International Film Festival

1 comment

  1. Whether you go to theatres for watching movies, or you watch them at home with the family, in both ways movies are great tool of relaxation.

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