Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lad: A Yorkshire Story

LAD:  A YORKSHIRE STORY          B                     
Great Britain  (96 mi)  2013  d:  Dan Hartley     Website   Trailer

Written, directed, produced, and edited by Dan Hartley in his first feature film, working as a video assistant operator on all the Harry Potter films, but born and raised in Yorkshire, making this something of an autobiographical project, where this is a somewhat uneven effort that takes awhile to get going before winning the audience’s favor, becoming something of an uplifting feelgood film of the year by the end.  Easy on the eyes, this is a literal travelogue through the Yorkshire Dales, which are used as more than a backdrop to this film, as the rocky landscape literally becomes the heart and soul of the lead character, Tom (Bretten Lord, a non-professional), a stand-in for the director, a young impressionable child whose headstrong reactions often produce chaos, yet also tug at your heartstrings, as you know the kid has the best of intentions.  What begins as a poor family living on the outskirts of town, far away from everything, yet their backyard is a panoramic vista as far as the eye can see of unspoiled natural landscape, a simply idyllic place to live, but for this family, with a truck driving Dad (Liam Thomas), a grocery clerk mom (Nancy Clarkson), and two young boys, Tom and Nick (Robert Hayes), it’s all they know, where the boys are often seen playing in the splendor of the immense green plateaus.  While Tom is something of a whiny kid that tends to get on everybody’s nerves, he’s also well meaning and earnest, while remaining loyal to a fault.  His world caves in, however, when his Dad suffers a heart attack and dies, made even worse when they don’t have the income to maintain the mortgage payments, so they’re threatened with losing their home.

While the set-up feels like a stock melodrama, and if truth be told, it is, the film slowly overcomes this weak introduction by investing Tom’s playful humor and stubborn, childlike personality into a willful push to save his family.  While it doesn’t feel like the kind of thing that would work (where one might wonder:  Where’s Lassie?), but the winning performance of Bretton Lord is priceless, as he successfully guides this picture into a fairly accurate recollection of childhood, befitting of an S.E. Hinton novel.  When Nick unexpectedly joins the army and leaves home, it feels like the ship is sinking when the bank refuses to grant an extension and intends to take home possession, but Tom’s boisterous antics, borrowing a tractor filled with a load of manure and driving it to the bank and plastering the front door with the entire load, has a way of drawing attention to the local residents.  The police decide, due to the death of his Dad, that rather than harsher punishment, what he really needs to do is some community service, where he’s ordered to help the local ranger, Al (Alan Gibson, another non-professional), a middle-age handyman who’s been at the job already for 17 years.  The special relationship that develops between these two, both of whom couldn’t be more natural souls, is the centerpiece of the film.  Hartley dedicated the film to the real Al Boughen, whose death in 2010 inspired the making of the film.  There are no large, drawnout scenes meant to magnify the experience, but instead becomes a series of smaller, genuine moments where they just talk honestly to one another. 

The film retains its comical balance with Lucy (Molly McGlynn), Al’s granddaughter, a straight talking tomboy a few years older than Tom who’s used to using her wits, where she continually flusters and outsmarts Tom, who’s simply befuddled by her presence.  Largely to get away from her, he turns to Al for refuge, where the two become fast friends, with Al becoming the father figure that Tom missed.  It’s a tender, quietly affecting story that accumulates depth and humanity over time, as Al is an intelligently reserved, no-nonsense guy who’s been to war and back, but doesn’t open up easily himself.  Lucy gets plenty of screen time and becomes less unnerving, while Tom’s mother has a bit of growing up to do as well, as she has to literally charm her way into a new job, using all the intimidation tactics she can muster.  It’s an interesting mix of comedy, landscape portraits, coming-of-age adventure story, and heartfelt moments that all combine to provide an authentic portrait of the region, using people from the community who had never acted before.  The film is something of a memory piece that pays an inspirational tribute to growing up in the region, capturing the spectacular scenery of the national park, but also the role rangers play in protecting and preserving the natural beauty, most of which goes unseen.  Young Tom becomes an authentic voice from the region, like a young Huck Finn living along the Mississippi riverbank, whose heart and soul become affected by the circumstances that define who he is on his journey to adulthood. 

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