In the late 60s Swaziland, as Britain prepares to hand the country its independence, the Cromptons are about to lose control. Harry Crompton (Gabriel Byrne), the Education Minister, is distraught (and fired) when his wife Lauren (Miranda Richardson) leaves him after an adulterous affair with a good friend. Their 11 year old son, Ralph (Zachary Fox) is equally distressed, and is eventually sent to boarding school. When he returns home for holidays at 14, Ralph (Nicholas Hoult) is surprised to find his father has married Ruby (Emily Watson) a breezy American who finds the colonials talking baby speak and being priggish and generally full of wah-wah. Harry's drinking worsens and he becomes violently unstable; the family teeters on the edge of destruction, while the British gentry prepare a production of Camelot for the upcoming independence celebrations in front of Princess Margaret.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The truth will set you free, they say, and there is no doubt a lot of cathartic value for Richard E. Grant in his debut feature, a semi autobiographical work about an English family self destructing just as the Empire crumbles, too. The story is told from Ralph's point of view, who is played by two young actors: the now well known Nicholas Hoult (About A Boy) plays the 14 year old, and Zachary Fox plays him at 11. Fox is sensational, a find as hot as Hoult was. His role is relatively short, but it's worth the price of admission alone.
Of course, this is a platinum plated cast: Gabriel Byrne is at his best as the decent but troubled, heartbroken alcoholic, while Miranda Richardson cuts loose as his self serving wife. Emily Watson delivers a remarkable characterisation of Ruby, an American who is like a cat amongst the pigeons of England. Julie Walters and Celia Imre (she often plays Queen Elizabeth II look-alikes) are splendid as very different dames of the colony, and Julian Wadham grates just right as Charles, the stuck up oaf. But none of these are caricatures, which saves the film from a fate worse than death: boredom.
I admire how Grant's writing and direction take Africa for granted (pardon the pun) in the sense that we are spared longing long shots of landscapes and similar signs of awestruck filmmaking. He's telling a story about lives shattered, rebuilt and otherwise traversed, in a passage of time that impacts most heavily on the storyteller: puberty. Ralph's rescue is partly engineered by an early romance which is neatly and tastefully built in, while the resolution is bitter sweet - enough to make it real, yet uplifting. It's is the real thing, no wah-wah about it.
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CAST: Gabriel Byrne, Miranda Richardson, Emily Watson, Julie Walters, Nicholas Hoult, Zachary Fox, Celia Imrie
PRODUCER: Jeff Abberley, Pierre Kubel, Marie-Castille Mention-Schaar
DIRECTOR: Richard E. Grant
SCRIPT: Richard E. Grant
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Pierre Aïm
EDITOR: Isabelle Dedieu
MUSIC: Patrick Doyle
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Gary Williamson
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 22, 2006