Review | Raindance Film Festival 2019
"As the camera bounces from room to room one can feel the breath being taken from you as you begin to feel the walls closing in and for Jack and Victor."
WE THE KINGS
Written & Directed by Lauren Mackenzie
Raindance Film Festival 2018 has 50% of their programme F Rated which really gives audiences the opportunity to see more films directed by women. On #FemaleFilmmakersFriday during the festival had the honour of attending the sold-out World Premiere of director Lauren MacKenzie’s debut feature WE THE KINGS.
Jack, Elliot James Langridge, a young man who has been in foster care most of his life, who meets Mackie, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, a new addition to his foster family and an instant bond is forged between them. Even after taking Mackie under his wing Jack continues to struggle to keep himself out of trouble but this connection he has with Mackie gives him a new sense of purpose and a more positive outlook on his life. But after a catastrophic incident, Jack finds himself needing to take refuge in what he believes is an abandoned bungalow that is until he comes face to face with a pensioner called Victor, Timothy West.
It is impossible not to relate to Jack who is a young man who feels as though he’s drowning. The system, his parents, and society have given up on him and at 17 he is like a ghost languishing in a situation he can not get out of it is fait accompli. But then Mackie and Lucy, Lily Loveless, become an important part of his life who offer him a positive way out that he had possibly never thought about before, these relationships that give him hope.
At the core of what makes WE THE KINGS such a unique and powerful debut feature are the two central characters brought vividly to life by West and Langridge. West’s nuanced performance as Victor, the subtlety that he employs to bring such a revealing character to life is an acting masterclass. Langridge’s for his part brings to life a troubled, emotionally raw, and terrified character that does seem to have lost everything. There are moments in the film where both West and Langridge erase any sense of who they are and they embody the spirit of their characters in such a powerfully effective way.
The coldness that Jack displays towards Victor throughout the film is perhaps a greater tell to the way he has lived his life. The fear, pain and sadness manifest itself through this anger that has already reached boiling point. Both Jack and Victor are victims of a failing of the care system with home care nurses Susan, Kacey Ainsworth, and Rosa, Amanda Abbington, fantastically capturing this sad reality that many older people face.
These home visits from Susan and Rosa should have given the audience some sense of relief that someone like Victor is being taken care of but that is far from it. The nurses are just another part of a broken system that is meant to be there to care for those who need but are not. Abbington and Ainsworth bring great energy to these characters and as well as the interaction between each other and with Victor there is a pureness to the way they go about their daily routine within him.
Rosa and Susan at times are rather humorous and this humour helps break the tension that is building between Jack and Victor but there is a darkness about the nurses that is as scary as it is heartbreaking. With the nurses, MacKenzie continues to employ this balance in her writing and does not make the nurses pure evil (though Rosa does get close to it) but instead the audience is allowed to try and understand where the nurses are coming from and how they are another cog in a damaged system.
Neither Jack or Victor deserve our sympathy but there is an interesting parallel between the two becomes painfully clear as the film begins to reach its climax. In Victor, we see an old man, alone with only two indifferent nurses to look after him. In trying to atone for his past deeds he is having to contend with this fate, a life led in the shadows unable to ask or seek help and alienated from everyone. For Jack, the similarities with Victor are just as stark. He as no family, the one he does have are responsible for the life he's led so far. But it is Victor's reveal that serves as a warning to Jack as he now has to make the ultimate decision, the one that will rule him for the rest of his life. Does he turn himself in and face up to the what he's done or does he spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulders? Victor sees how afraid Jack really is and in these moments the audience also become aware of how Jack's best intentions, as misguided as they are, never meant to cause this type of trouble.
"There are moments in the film where both West and Langridge erase any sense of who they are and they embody the spirit of their characters in such a powerfully effective way."
MacKenzie skill as a writer/director is measured, detailed and intriguing as she clearly has this ability to create a realism within her text that becomes relatable and never makes her audience need to judge her characters. By unpacking the story through flashbacks provides a fantastic sense of urgency and adds brilliantly to the claustrophobic nature of being in the bungalow. The natural feel of this set and the flashbacks that truly add greater substance to Jack's life is brilliantly realised by DOP Paul MacKay. As the camera bounces from room to room one can feel the breath being taken from you as you begin to feel the walls closing in and for Jack and Victor.
WE THE KINGS captures in its own way the reality of those who have been failed, forgotten and abused by the care system. MacKenzie’s script, nominated for Best Screenplay and Best UK Film at Raindance, provides Jack, Victor as well as nurses Susan and Rosa with interesting layers that tightly control the way the story unfolds allowing the audience to forge deeper feelings and understandings of their situation.will hit home with a lot of its audiences because of the sincerity that comes through her screenplay and from the performances from her gifted cast.