Director: Carol Morley (2015)
Mass hallucination, sexual exploration and death combine to cast a spell of barely believable boredom in this boarding school drama.
After tragedy strikes a strict English girls’ school, a mysterious fainting epidemic breaks out. With the authorities denying anything is wrong, it’s up to the pupils to deal with events.
Schoolgirl Lydia (Maisie Williams) is a moody, bookish brunette, her closest friend Abigail (Florence Pugh) is an annoying, more attractive blonde.
They spend their time embracing each other, licking each other’s fingers and sharing bubblegum. They also read poetry to one another and carve their initials in a tree like lovers do.
The actresses deliver literal line-readings and never come close to suggesting their characters possess interior lives.
Abigail sports love-bites and too-short hemlines. Despite her affection for Lydia she openly enjoys the attention of boys who drive fast cars.
Following nosebleeds and medical examinations, Lydia develops a serious twitch and there’s an outbreak of falling over among the school’s population. This becomes laughable the more people it affects.
There’s a suggestion it could all be caused by a magic spell cast by Lydia’s weird brother Kenneth (Joe Cole) – but doctors insist nothing is wrong with the girls.
Lydia’s mostly mute mother Eileen (Maxine Peake) is a homebound hairdresser who silently suffers a great deal of angry abuse from her daughter.
Greta Scacchi and Monica Dolan play stern school-heads who antagonise Lydia by refusing to take her seriously.
The 1969 setting seems designed to avoid the internet and isn’t exploited for any other purpose, certainly not to create a much needed sense of otherworldly timelessness.
Prosaic camerawork and lighting fail to generate any sense of operatic grandness while the pacing is erratic with scenes alternately dragging or rushing. The editor includes many slow-panning shots of leaves and trees.
There’s a lot of poetry and an alarmingly intrusive rock-folk soundtrack – but none of the disparate elements heighten the gothic undertone in the script; consequently an interesting mood of mystery or fear fails to materialise.