VOD film review: Albatross
James R | On 30, Dec 2016
Director: Niall MacCormick
Cast: Jessica Brown Findlay, Felicity Jones, Sebastian Koch, Julia Ormond
Watch Albatross online in the UK: MUBI UK / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Apple TV (iTunes) / Google Play
Aspiring writer Emilia Conan-Doyle (yes, she is related to the Sherlock Holmes author) breezes into The Cliff House, a boring B&B on The Isle of Man. She’s horrible, she’s likeable, she’s exuberant. She swiftly makes friends with the bookish Beth (Jones), who’s grown up with aims of going to Oxford. And, of course, she’s a lightning rod for Beth’s dad, Jonathan (Koch).
A failed author struggling to repeat the success of his first book, Jonathan’s a pretentious perv, who swans about the attic all day, wearing scarfs and jerking off. It’s no surprise that he gets excited by the arrival of Emilia Conan-Doyle (yes, she is related to the Sherlock Holmes author), but then not much of Albatross is that surprising.
Written by first-timer Tamzin Rafn, the film’s set-up is fairly predictable stuff. Senile old relatives and university applications run about the village carrying signs saying “Major Plot Point” and “Symbolic Film Title”, but director Niall MacCormick gives events a distinctly charming air.
A lot of that is down to his well-chosen cast. Front and centre is the superb Jessica Brown Findlay, who balances vibrant energy and brash rudeness to turn her MPDG into more of a sympathetic cow. The always-fantastic Felicity Jones is a natural foil for Findlay’s loud presence, adding a realistic edge to proceedings, while Sebastian Koch’s tosser clearly enjoys being sleazy and drooling all over the young woman. Julia Ormond has fun, too, as Jonathan’s frustrated housewife, even if she does spend most of the film forcing her youngest child to do ballet.
Throughout, MacCormick and his DoP have a nice way with the lens, immediately making you want to visit The Isle of Man (if not to stay in The Fischer family’s messed up B&B). And it’s that mix of cute presentation and quality casting that stops the amusing screenplay from feeling too familiar. When it comes to awkward emotions and painful conflict, Albatross is far from The Squid and the Whale, but it’s no dead bird. For every moment of cliched drama, Brown Findlay appears and things really take flight. The result is more winning than wince-inducing, and a showcase for two brilliant young British stars.