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Albatross (2011)
Emelia Conan Doyle (Jessica Brown Findlay), a rebellious teenage dropout who believes she is a descendant of Arthur Conan Doyle, takes a job as a cleaner in a seaside hotel owned by Jonathan Fischer (Sebastian Koch). Jonathan is a writer from Germany who has struggled with writer’s block since his successful first novel, The Cliff House, was published 20 years before. He lives in the hotel with his wife Joa (Julia Ormond) and two daughters, Beth, 17, (Felicity Jones) and Posy, six. Jonathan is constantly sequestered in the attic working on his writing, leaving the hotel to be run by Joa. Their marriage is stormy as Joa is unhappy about Jonathan’s lack of success in his profession and his disconnected parenting. Meanwhile, Emelia has lived with her grandparents since her mother committed suicide.

 

Directed by:
Written by:
Running Time:
Original Release:
Box Office:
Cast & Characters:
Niall MacCormick
Tamzin Rafn (screenplay)
90 minutes
October 14, 2011 (UK)
Uknown
Jessica Brown Findlay as Emelia, Sebastian Koch as Jonathan Fischer, Julia Ormond as Joa Fischer, Felicity Jones as Beth Fischer, Peter Vaughan as Grandpa

 

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PRODUCTION NOTES

The debut feature from award-winning director Niall MacCormick (BAFTA-nominated BBC drama Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley) and written by Tamzin Rafn, ALBATROSS boasts lead performances from two of Britain’s most exciting up-and-coming actresses, who are both BIFA nominated – Jessica Brown Findlay (‘Lady Sybil’ in hit ITV drama Downton Abbey) and Felicity Jones(Chalet Girl, Best Actress winner at Sundance for upcoming film Like Crazy). They are joined by established actors Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others, Unknown) and, in an engagingly comic performance, Emmy-award winning Julia Ormond (HBO’s Temple Grandin, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), alongside supporting actors including Harry Treadaway (Fish Tank) and veteran character-actor Peter Vaughan (The Remains of the Day).

Beautiful. Smart. Talented. Trouble. 17-year-old Emelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a force of nature who bursts into the lives of the dysfunctional Fischer family when she is hired to work in their guest house in a sleepy south coast town. Beth Fischer (Felicity Jones), also 17, is cramming for her A-Levels in a desperate bid to escape to university, whilst dad Jonathan (Sebastian Koch), once a best-selling author, is suffering from writer’s block much to the annoyance of frustrated mum Joa (Julia Ormond) who runs the hotel and laments the promising acting career she once left behind.

Aspiring writer Emelia has been bought up by her grandparents and is under the impression that she is the great granddaughter of renowned novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Jonathan sees promise in Emelia and begins to tutor her, as Beth becomes enamoured with her forthright friend and decides to take her along on a visit to Oxford University – with hilariously raucous results.

As Emelia’s confidence and free-spirit help Beth learn to enjoy life beyond, Emelia too is inspired by Beth’s determination to focus and she begins to see a way to break through her self-destructive  tendencies.  However, when Emelia and Jonathan begin an illicit affair, the girls’ friendship is threatened.

Can Emelia escape the ties of small town existence and free herself of the albatross around her neck?

 

OUR REVIEW

“A brilliant and charming tale of friendship, loneliness and ambition, and pulled off wonderfully thanks to a strong, witty script and accomplished performances across the board…”

With a host of critically-acclaimed films currently gracing our cinema screens, not to mention the London Film Festival taking place over the course of October, it’s easy to overlook other films that are set to be released at the same time. However, you’d be foolish to do so in this case, as Albatross is a charming, charismatic debut-feature film from Niall MacCormick.

And it isn’t just MacCormick who can celebrate his introduction into the world of cinema, as writer Tamzin Rafn, and leading star Jessica Brown Findlay also prepare for their debuts, giving Albatross a fresh, original feel to it that adds to an already accomplished production.

Set on the Isle of Man, we follow the juvenile Emelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) a defiant, self-assured and bright girl, who, despite such positive attributes, is also a celebrated troublemaker, who manages to make a habit of unfulfilling her potential. That is until she befriends Beth (Felicity Jones), a quiet, introverted character, with her eye on a place at Oxford University. As the unlikely friendship blossoms, as does Emelia’s relationship with Beth’s father and writer Jonathan (Sebastian Koch), as what primarily starts off as creative writing lessons, soon turns into a fully pledged affair between the married father of two, and the attractive adolescent, an issue which could well lead to shattering consequences for all concerned.

Where Albatross succeeds is within its innocent charm. British features can be accused of going down the deplorable, gritty path in order to gain a following. Not that I am against such films – many (such as the soon to be released Tyrannosaur) use the gritty realism of everyday life to their advantage, but for other films it can be used as a cop-out, for dramatic effect. However, Albatross manages to be equally as affecting and realistic as other British dramas without the need for drugs or violence.

And much of the charm can be put upon the shoulders of Findlay. In her debut feature film she oozes confidence and buoyancy that makes her character what it is, as the part requires such self-assurance in order to work. Alongside Jones, it felt like a glimpse into the future of British cinema, as both gifted actresses demonstrate impressive qualities. Whilst Findlay is sassy and confident, Jones has a wonderful raw British-ness to her. She has that ‘girl next door’ feel, making her feel incredibly easy to relate to.

The setting is also perfect for the film. Its picturesque setting, combined with the serenity of British beach towns added to the atmosphere of the film, and helped us to understand the characters, making Emelia’s good girl gone bad image, seem somewhat more significant.

One criticism I do have however, is that I don’t feel there is enough build-up to the relationship between Emelia and Jonathan. It was always quite an improbable liaison, between a young girl and married man, so I just feel that perhaps more justification and developments are required to help make the situation seem more comprehendible.

That aside, it’s a brilliant and charming tale of friendship, loneliness and ambition, and pulled off wonderfully thanks to a strong, witty script and accomplished performances across the board. So with Tyrannosaur and Albatross both to be released this autumn, it seems that British cinema is set to end the year on a high note.

 

LINKS & RESEARCH
Internet Movie Database additional information
Captivating Felicity fansite for co-star Felicity Jones

 

AWARDS & NOMINATIONS

Nominated – British Independent Film Awards – Most Promising Newcomer
Nominated – Evening Standard British Film Awards – Best Ensemle in a Motion Picture