VOD film review: Black Medicine
Matthew Turner | On 17, Jul 2021
Director: Colum Eastwood
Cast: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Amybeth McNulty, Orla Brady, John Connors, Julie Lamberton, Lalor Roddy, Shashi Rami
Where to watch Black Medicine online in the UK: Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
Written and directed by Colum Eastwood (no relation), Black Medicine stars Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Jo, a disgraced former anaesthetist turned underworld medic, performing medical operations at the behest of crime bosses. As the film begins, she’s on the verge of suicide, due to the death of her daughter and subsequent estrangement from her husband.
However, a timely phone call summons Jo to the home of crime boss Bernadette (Orla Brady), who wants her to perform a life-saving heart transplant operation on her daughter, Lucy (Julie Lamberton). There’s just one problem: the supposed donor is naïve teenage runaway Aine (Amybeth McNulty), who’s under the impression she’s only donating a kidney. When Jo finds Aine hiding in her car, she makes the decision to try and get her to safety, even though that means putting her own life at risk.
Campbell-Hughes is terrific as Jo, delivering one of those performances that’s much better than the film really deserves. Accordingly, she sells every moment of her character arc, from her utter despair at the beginning to the fact that Aine awakens something in her, perhaps because her daughter was a similar age, and finally her renewed sense of purpose as a result of her decision.
Brady is excellent too, taking both sides of Bernadette (ruthless gangster and desperate mother) and making them equally convincing. There’s also strong support from McNulty, though Lamberton is annoyingly underused, considering how key she is to the central plot.
Unfortunately, the superb performances are let down by the script, which squanders the potential of its intriguing set-up – you’re expecting a real battle of wits between Jo and Bernadette, but that never really comes to pass. Instead, it feels like the film treads water until the final act and the way it brings the characters into place feels both lazy and contrived.
Eastwood’s direction also feels very flat throughout, before suddenly livening up with an unconvincing lurch into violence and melodrama. It doesn’t help that the film’s atmosphere is relentlessly dark and gloomy, almost as if the production were forbidden to film during the daytime and the budget only stretched to a handful of lights.
In addition, the film has the occasional laughable moment, most notably when Bernadette attempts the “we’re not so different, you and I” speech (a terrible cliché at the best of times), seemingly unaware that the script has done nothing at all to suggest similarities between the two characters, let alone that Bernadette would be aware of them. It’s also fair to say that the emotional moments never really connect, making this an ultimately frustrating experience, despite strong work from the two leads.