Sweetheart – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director – Marley Morrison
Writer – Marley Morrison
Stars – Nell Barlow, Jo Hartley, Ella-Rae Smith
A quintessentially English piece, Sweetheart is set in a Dorset seaside holiday camp. It’s a place where not a great deal seems to happen, or a lot seems to be on offer and yet they flourish, after a fashion. Hundreds of holiday homes are arranged side by side with industrial-like precision and not a plant or tree to soften the effect, but a change is as good as a rest and it is to such a location that our long-suffering Mum Tina (Jo Hartley) drives with her daughters in tow. Big sister, who is expecting a baby, travels separately with her partner and all end up in the same ‘home’ for a week of getting on each other’s nerves. The pressure-cooker atmosphere is the setting for AJ‘s (Nell Barlow) enforced holiday, at a place which seemed full of wonder and freedom when she was aged nine but is now just naff and horrible, now that she is seventeen and ‘no one wants to be seventeen.’ Add to that, her coming to terms with being gay and wanting to knit jumpers for elephants suffering from hypothermia, we have a distinctive feeling of her being a fish out of water so to speak.
Already mentally prepared for a week of misery her self-indulgent state is somewhat shattered by the presence of bubbly beauty lifeguard, Isla (Ella-Rae Smith), who drinks and smokes and sleeps with whom she wants. Isla is everything AJ desires and also wants to be. This frustrated love hope adds further to her sense of alienation from her mother and siblings. In what is a mixture of EastEnders, Gavin and Stacey, a touch of Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, we nonetheless have an engaging narrative where the humour stops just short of being condescending and the sentiment short of being mawkish. The best scenes are the great family arguments with sharp writing capturing the tensions and reality of such squabbles where things are said that can’t be unsaid. And while the film focuses on AJ and her week-long journey of self-realisation, there is also the story of the mother Tina (Jo Hartley) excellently acted and compelling with just a look capturing so much. This is a woman who earns little, squirrels away money for her annual outing, aspiring to greater things and yet can only afford the basics. Abandoned by her husband, and with an improbably big age gap between each of her daughters, she remains committed to getting the best out of each day. She too needs love and loving – as indeed we all do! It’s a film that hits many right notes along its way.