Friday, 15 December 2017

Creator of Henley-set drama is destined for greater things

WHEN Henley-raised 29-year old writer-director Kirsty Robinson introduced her feature-length offering at the film portion of this year’s Henley Fringe and Film Festival, she was at pains to clarify that her 93-minute opus was not only “low-budget” but had cost a meagre £3,000 to make

WHEN Henley-raised 29-year old writer-director Kirsty Robinson introduced her feature-length offering at the film portion of this year’s Henley Fringe and Film Festival, she was at pains to clarify that her 93-minute opus was not only “low-budget” but had cost a meagre £3,000 to make.

Having committed to her first draft at the age of 14, she seemed to apologise that the film was in post-production for two years following principal photography in 2013; actually quite a normal period for a completely self-financed independent film, and considering projects like this on a limited purse often never even reach a cinema or festival audience.

Tea + Cake, according to the official synopsis, traces the journeys and relationships of four generations of women in a small town, although key to the narrative is the friendship between two school-leavers, Beth (Emily Hardick) and Jo (Alice Pitt-Carter).

While the former struggles to break free from the constrictions of rural parochialism to pursue a career in the film industry in London, the latter remains homebound, fulfilling her obligation to attend to a sick father and wayward aunt. Interspersed throughout the story are real-life talking heads of all ages, shot in black and white, imparting their individual life lessons and wisdoms upon the audience and, presumably, the characters themselves. Clearly, the overarching ideas here are those of learning from one’s mistakes, pursuing dreams, and the importance of reconciliation.

Although set in our own Henley-on-Thames, the market town location is apparently incidental, and revealed to the uninitiated solely by Beth’s scanning of the Situations Vacant page of the Henley Standard.



That being said, the cinematographer Sandra De Silva De La Torre puts her own stamp on both the town’s more picturesque and humdrum locales with an astute eye, drawing us into its festive ebullience one moment and dropping us into murkier shadows the next — a side with which, perhaps, residents might not be obviously familiar.

Hardick and Pitt-Carter deliver instinctive, unselfconscious leading performances. We feel Beth’s pain of rejection as she struggles to find her place in the world, and empathise with Jo’s erratic behaviour caused by the so many things that are out of her control.

A large cast of confident supporting roles – literally too many to mention here – add to the impressive line-up of accolades for this production.

All the while, Robinson’s sharp understanding of character, storytelling, pacing, and comic sensibility always leaves us wanting more. The sequence where Beth imagines clambering on top of her love interest in the park, while her girlfriends look on bemused, is truly hilarious.

Conversely, the director’s handling of weightier material in places is as mature as anything we might find on the rounds of the top film festivals.

One can only imagine what a further three or four zeros added to the budget of this film might have allowed, suffice to say that Robinson should be destined for greater things.

There’s a posse of talented filmmakers and performance artists rising up from Henley’s substrate, and the organiser of the Henley Fringe and Film Festival, Jo Southwell — a gifted filmmaker herself — is right on top of it. We should all be eager to see where it goes.

Review: Martin Dew



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