Pond Life aims to make magic out of the mundane day-to-day life of a deprived English community but leaves audiences feeling a little damp.
Set in a former mining town near Doncaster during the summer of 1994, where the main form of entertainment for adults is a quiz night down the Miners’ Welfare Club when the kids are snogging in the park and trying to astral project themselves into their ex-girlfriends’ bedrooms. The nearby pond brings the group of young friends together as they fish for record-breaking carps during late-night trips.
Adapted by Richard Cameron from his own play and directed by first-timer Bill Buckhurst. With cinematography from Nick Cooke and bittersweet music from Richard Hawley, the film is quietly character-driven with a relatable and minimalist dramatic narrative. The community is dealing with the ripples from the pit closures, but the adult problems are merely background noise to the fantastic young cast and their own personal tragedies.
Pond Life pulls together an interconnected yet short collection of scenes, stories and menial dramas from young people trying to find their place in the world. Daydreaming space cadet Malcolm (Fleabag’s Angus Imrie), the older Trevor who has a job lined in a warehouse (Ackley Bridge’s Tom Varey) and the off-centre Pogo (Samantha Morton’s daughter Esmé Creed-Miles) are the standout performers. Two young boys Shane (Gianlucca Galluci) and Dave (Ethan Wilkie) provide the much-needed humour despite the tension in their friendship. Cassie (Cold Feet’s Daisy Edgar-Jones) is the sign of Malcolm’s creepy affections but is too caught up with her obsessive boyfriend Maurice (Guerrilla’s Abraham Lewis).
Creed-Mile (Hanna and Dark River) especially shines in Pond Life, unselfconscious and a girl between childhood and teens. Pogo quirkiness is often played for laughs, uncomfortably it looks like she is suffering from mild learning difficulties or severe trauma. She carries a tape recorder everywhere and obsessively wears a red anorak, but we never find out where these habits come from. Everything important and interesting happened to these characters before the film started and we’re now just watching the uneventful fallout. There is some comedy, but it’s far too subtle and gentle to really hit home. Characters aren’t given the chance to reveal more about themselves with elusive dialogue and a backstory that requires the audience to fill in the gaps.
The adult cast is entirely under-used. Great British actors like Siobhan Finneran, Sally Lindsay, Shaun Dooley and Julie Hesmondhalgh appear for minutes, doing mundane tasks like the housework and drinking in the pub. Their stories are background noise to our young cast, realistic perhaps but engaging it is not. It’s not just the children finding out about themselves, their parents are still working out how to relate to each other and their close-knit surroundings. There are glimpses of a great film in the scenes where the parents are dancing and seeking light belief in bingo nights.
There are shades of Ken Loach to the socially conscience portrayal of the working-class Yorkshire town with hints of Shane Meadows’ banter-filled script and an eccentric selection of characters reminiscent of Trainspotting. This pace is so slow with extended scenes of silence, of characters sat around watching TV and quiz questions about Tony Blair. There are wonderful portrayals of friendship and growing pains, but there are too many awkward and unconvincing moments that soon drag into boring. You can’t help but feel like
There is a strong theatrical tone to the film, it’s no surprise that it came from the stage. It’s claustrophobic, despite many scenes taking place outside in the bleak landscape of Yorkshire, but the adaptation doesn’t quite translate as it should. Despite strong performances and a great attention to detail Pond Life falls flat due to the lack of plot. The only plot strand that really stands out is the rumour of a giant carp in the pond but it’s mainly a device used to bring all the tiny strands of character development together.
Pond Life is close to being a cute, nostalgic British film but it feels too low key to be charming and touching.
Pond Life is released on DVD and VOD on 26 August 2019.
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