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The Famous Five meet the Third World War - and it works
on 22 October 2013
This movie is about two teenage lovers torn apart by a third world war and determined to be reunited. It goes from the comical to the lyrical to the romantic to the threatening to the frightening to the grisly and never lost my attention for a moment. That's quite an achievement given that I'm a grumpy old man who soon gets irritated if writers, actors or directors don't do their job properly.
Acerbic American teenager Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) arrives in England to stay with her cousins. There's 14-year-old Isaac, a laid-back soul who meets her at the airport and subjects her to a scary ride home in a messy old Land Rover. "Home" is a ramshackle farmhouse and her other cousins are Piper (10-year-old Harley Bird), who is more chatty and friendly than Daisy cares for, and Edmond (George MacKay) who is the eldest and doesn't say much. There's unwashed crockery and meals are a disorganised affair; mother (Anna Chancellor) spends much of her time in her study and soon jets off to Geneva on a mission apparently connected with averting an apocalypse.
Daisy, who has OCD, is neurotic about the food she eats and is on medication to quell voices in her head, finds this environment somewhat challenging. She reacts by sulking in her room until the warmth of her cousins draws her out. It then becomes reminiscent of the Famous Five (Daisy has more than a passing resemblance to George) with swimming in the river, picnics and so on. But Daisy and Edmond aren't children and the hormones start to flow.
If the Famous Five were the optimistic face of the fifties, the threat of nuclear annihilation was its darker face. Contrary to many people's expectations it didn't materialise then but in this story, set in the near future, a nuclear bomb is detonated in London; there has already been some kind of bomb in Paris. It's all to do with unspecified terrorists. Sorry, war enthusiasts; if you want that kind of detail you've come to the wrong film.
Martial law is declared as Daisy's and Edmond's love is flowering so who can blame them for getting into bed together? The sex scene isn't as explicit as you may have been led to believe; more heart-warming than erotic or voyeuristic.
Their post-coital slumbers are interrupted by soldiers bursting in, guns blazing, to cart the boys and girls off to separate camps. Like many teenagers caught up by war before them, Daisy and Edmond vow to return home to each other.
The movie concentrates on Daisy's and Piper's experience in the work camp and subsequent escape. They see death - and not just of strangers - and anarchy which puts vulnerable females in danger. Hungry, thirsty and exhausted, Piper is a child trying to do her best to keep going, with Daisy pushing her to the limits and getting shirty with her in the process.
It was to be expected that Ronan would give a good performance - her best yet, I reckon - but Bird certainly didn't look out of place in such distinguished company. And thank goodness that director Kevin Macdonald concentrates on telling the story in a way which keeps the audience engaged; many a good film is spoiled by directors who forget that no matter how good the material or the actors, you'll send the punters to sleep if you don't give them enough variation of pace and tone. The film in which Ronan had her last outing , Byzantium, was an example of this.
Let's hope that after that and the cinematic disaster which was The Host, this nuclear disaster opens a new chapter in Ronan's career. She deserves it.
SPOILER I can think of other actresses performing with their fathers in films - Henry and Jane Fonda, John and Hayley Mills - but is there another example of an actress killing her father in a film?