On the back of our interview with Lloyd Eyre-Morgan (director of Dream On) and Jody Latham (best known for his role as Lip in Shameless), here’s our review of their brand new film Celluloid, which is released on DVD on January 27th.
Making a film with a budget of just £3,000 is no simple task, as Morgan himself will tell you, yet with the right combination of determination and a solid story, it’s amazing just how well the final product can come together. It is with this in mind that I’d like to approach Celluloid. The film is an “LGBT drama” that tells the tale of a young boy, Josh (Daniel Booth), who is coming to terms with his sexuality. His home life is chaotic thanks to his mother’s mental illness, his sister’s hedonism and his best friend’s inability to see what is staring him in the face, and the film explores the problems that these multiple issues cause the family.
Now, whenever I see the phrase “LGBT drama” I shudder a little, for it often turns out to be a film in which the LGBT element is stressed so much that it completely drowns out the actual story. Celluloid avoids that trap as a result of its dark, gritty story and its grasp of simple realism. It isn’t so much an LGBT film with dramatic undertones rather it is a dramatic film with LGBT undertones. Though the film focuses a lot on two teenagers “discovering” their sexuality against the backdrop of a much larger issue, it is done in such a manner that these could be any teenagers. It is, in a sense, a classic coming-of-age story, albeit one with a darker twist.
The film is most successful in the portrayal of its characters, all of whom struck me as realistic thanks to the strength of the performances. Latham is perhaps a bit typecast in his role, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, his portrayal of Barnsey is one of his best but most hateful performances to date; the character is cruel, yet he possesses just enough “cheeky-chappy” charm that he manages to draw you under his spell like he does the other characters. You never quite trust him (and rightly so!) but you can’t help but like him, at least momentarily, which makes his subsequent viciousness all the more effective.
For me, however, the real star of the piece is Janet Bamford, who brings an effortless sense of tragedy to mother Dawn. There’s a danger with a character like this to overegg the pudding, and though the writing occasionally threatens to slip into melodrama (though it never crosses that line, thankfully), Bamford manages to ground things in realism. You feel for her character not just because of her situation – which is, of course, terrible – but because Bamford plays the character like a relatable, everyday woman. The audience feels like this might be their mum, or someone they know, which makes her struggle all the more harrowing.
Celluloid is by no means a perfect film, but its complete lack of pretension is certainly refreshing. The central performance from Daniel Booth is problematic to begin with – though once he finds his stride it gets better – while the plot doesn’t quite justify the near two-hour runtime, but there is enough going on to keep the audience entertained. The insertion of humour works most of the time – and Morgan reins the comedy in in the final act, when the drama comes to a head, which is the right thing to do – though there are a few moments here and there that feel almost unnecessarily cheesy, though these are admittedly few and far between.
Ultimately, Celluloid is a film that never crosses the thin line between seriousness and melodrama, and it is one in which none of its threads are overplayed. The LGBT element is banal (I mean this in a good way, in that it never takes precedence over the plot), the found-footage element is used sporadically and the tragic nature of Dawn’s issues are explored with just the right level of sensitivity. For a film made on such a small budget it really is quite the triumph, and though there are better LGBT / independent dramas out there, something about this one works far more successfully than it perhaps should. If you excuse the production values, which don’t get in the way all that much anyway, then you might just have a great time with Celluloid.
Celluloid is out now and can be purchased from Amazon and HMV.