Director: Jamie Adams
Cast: Alice Lowe, Tom Cullen
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While Jamie Adams’ low budget British comedy, Black Mountain Poets, could be seen as a rather slight affair, its charm lies in a host of vivid characterisations and a complete lack of pretension. Filmed over the course of five days, with nary a script in sight, the actors took the writer’s initial idea and improvised with a skilful enthusiasm that belies the project’s humble origins.
The film has its feet firmly in the tradition of camping comedies, a genre in which the Brits excel. From Carry on Camping through Nuts in May to, more recently, Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, we are experts in the specific misery of setting up a tent or a caravan in the middle of a damp field, having nothing to do, and expecting the resulting experience to be fun. The extreme boredom, combined with the compulsory cheery rapport with other tent-dwellers, is ripe for humour.
Viewers seeking a film about avant-garde poetry may be disappointed, as the Black Mountain here is not the North Carolina college of the original 1950s post-modern literary group, but instead the Black Mountains of Wales, where neurotic sisters Claire (Dolly Wells) and Lisa (Alice Lowe, previously seen in Sightseers) find themselves. Opening with their foiled attempt to steal a JCB for no discernible motive other than to suggest that they have little regard for the law, they steal a car which has been left unattended by two women who look like, well, poets.
Lisa and Claire investigate the contents of the glove compartment and find some rancid sushi and an invitation to a poetry retreat, which the owners of the car, the Wilding sisters, have been travelling to. This is the first inaugural Poet’s Poetry Society gathering, not exactly a sell-out event, despite a prize of several thousand pounds being up for grabs to whoever can write the best poem inspired by the weekend. The Wilding sisters, it turns out, are renowned poets, whose arrival the other attendees of the retreat have been keenly anticipating. With nothing to do other than wait for an acquaintance to come and rescue them, Claire and Lisa decide to take advantage of the hospitality on offer. Taking on the identity of the Wilding sisters, they are treated like superstars, and are quickly smitten with their newfound celebrity status.
Thus begins the sisters’ journey to self-expression and self-knowledge through nature and verse. Though Claire is appalled at the thought of camping for two days in the Welsh countryside, they nevertheless accompany Richard (Cullen), his ex-girlfriend Louise (Rosa Robson), Gareth (Richard Elis) and Stacey (Laura Patch), and quickly get into the spirit of things. While the sex-mad Lisa is instantly taken with Richard, despite the presence of the unpleasant and selfish Louise, she soon becomes more captivated with creativity itself. Claire, meanwhile, forges a deeper-than-sexual bond with Richard, though has to contend with the jealousies of both Louise and her sister.
The film won the Student Critics’ Jury Award at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, and it’s not hard to see why. At just under one and a half hour’s running time, this is what low-budget films should aspire to be – casually likeable, with a big heart, sparkling performances, and good humour seeping from every stanza.