In Tudor England an isolated community of salt farmers arrange illegal passage to Europe for an Indian Gypsy family in hiding. Tensions rise when Patience, a mute English girl, forms a relationship with a young Egyptian boy, threatening to destroy both communities.
Philip Stevens’ debut feature captures a life of tough existence, harsh and unforgiving. But for all the difficulty and hardship the film is visually stunning.
The attention to period detail is impressive. The costumes look worn and well used, as does the overall aesthetic. The rolling fields and salt flats were shot on location in Lincolnshire, and Stewart MacGregor’s cinematography helps give the landscape a timeless, atmospheric and earthy look.
David (Emmett J Scanlan), the violent patriarchal leader, carries a real sense of threat, a physical danger which escalates with each vicious outburst. This increasing feeling of vindictive menace is palpable, even if the performance is rather cliched.
These moments of violence are brutal and unflinching, particularly the sexual violence, which makes for particularly uncomfortable viewing and certainly drives home the dominant, malicious and accepted patriarchy within the small community.
The rest of the cast are equally adequate but the real standout performance is Hannah Douglas as Patience, through who’s eyes we mostly see the narrative unfold. She carries the film well, (appearing in nearly every scene), with an aura of naiveté and inner turmoil, entrancingly expressed mainly through her facial expressions and reactions, often in close-up.
One of the film’s weaknesses, which was mainly down to the script, was that it didn’t quite flesh out the characters enough, making it difficult to engage with them, as their inter-relationships were not as fully developed as they perhaps could have been.
This was more so in the case of the Gypsy family, of whom we see relatively little. Although their story was not the main narrative focus, a little more background surrounding them and the family dynamic would have helped create some empathy and understanding into their own situation.
After all, the fact is that it is down to their being there which causes upset to the relative harmony of the settled community. There is some intertitle explanation of the history at the start of the film, but to highlight the situational and cultural differences of their existence would have given it more emotional tangibility.
Lapwing is a bleak, beautiful study of race, sex and sense community. It explores how little and how much these attitudes have changed over nearly five hundred years.
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