15 June 2024

Film Review – The Colour Room (2021)

Initially, there’s little about The Colour Room to catch the eye. The story of 1920’s ceramic artist, Clarice Cliff, who turned out to be something of a trailblazer and, for those who know next to nothing about the industry (probably most of us), the title doesn’t give much of a clue. But the one thing that will catch your attention is the name at the top of the cast list. Phoebe Dynevor, from the huge Netflix hit, Bridgerton. And she makes this, her first feature film, very much her own.

Coming from a working class family in Stoke On Trent, the best Clarice could hope for was a job in one of The Potteries’ factories, despite her obvious talent for design and colour. Being creative and developing new ceramics collections was very much a man’s job and it was only when her ideas caught the attention of factory owner, Colley Shorter (Matthew Goode) that she was able to join his team of designers. It wasn’t plain sailing, though: as the only woman among them, she was kept out of meetings and decision making and had her ideas constantly dismissed. Her first collection, Bizarre, with its strong shapes and bold colours, didn’t go to plan but, undeterred, she found a way to bring it to the attention of female customers and went on not only to save the factory during the Depression of the thirties, but take ceramics in a whole new direction.

For a film essentially about art, it inevitably has a strong visual appeal. The grime, dirt and danger of The Potteries is re-created to the extent that you can almost taste the dirt in your mouth right from the outset. And the smokiness of factories seeps into the interiors, especially the cramped houses where the workers, including Cliff’s family, live. Set against that as a living bolt of colour is the woman herself. It starts with a vibrant scarf and, as the film continues, extends into more of her clothes, as well as the glowing warmth of the paint she uses on her creations. As a woman she stands out as well, unconventional, deliberately wearing her hair in a bob and letting nothing, but nothing, stand in the way of her ambitions.

Which makes Dynevor a great choice. She gives an energetic, spirited performance and her name at the top of the cast will hopefully attract a younger audience which otherwise might not have been attracted by the subject matter. Hers is also the best developed character because, despite the patriarchal society portrayed on screen, the male characters aren’t sufficiently well rounded – and, consequently, a bit of a pushover. Goode’s Shorter is mildly eccentric but with the vision to recognise her talent, which makes for an interesting relationship in the first half of the film, one that’s a meeting of minds but essentially platonic. It’s almost a shame it turns into something else. At the same time, Clarice also catches the more benevolent and fatherly eye of senior designer Fred Ridgeway (David Morrissey), who becomes a kindly mentor but, after a few scenes, fades into the background. We don’t really get to know either men especially well, and both actors deserve more and better.

But the issue with The Colour Room is the narrative itself. One with curiosity value, certainly, but not with enough strength to hold on to us for a full length feature. The theme of a woman breaking through a male-dominated profession is its backbone, but it needs more and, despite Clarice’s family story and her relationship with Shorter, the end result is a film that’s short on drama. It’s visually appealing, but it doesn’t really feel especially cinematic: indeed, most people will see it on the small screen and that’s where it truly belongs. On a Sunday afternoon, perhaps, with tea served from Cliff’s beautiful cups and saucers.

★★★


Drama, Biopic | Cert: PG | Cinemas, Sky Cinema, 12 November 2021 | Dir. Claire McCarthy | Phoebe Dynevor, Matthew Goode, David Morrissey, Kerry Fox, Darci Shaw.


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