Thursday, 10 April 2014

Felicia's Journey (1999)

Atom Egoyan's adaptation of William Trevor's novel of the same name is a mordantly dark, at times blackly comic, and almost Hitchcockian production concerning two lost souls, each damaged by their past and their parents, thrown together in a quietly desperate, stifled post industrial Birmingham shot in suitably dank greens and browns.

Elaine Cassidy plays titular Felicia, a dreamy, innocent and bewildered young Irish girl whom we meet on the crossing over to England. She's looking for her boyfriend Johnny (Peter Macdonald) who has got her pregnant and, somewhat unhelpfully and uncaring, has severed all contact with her since he moved to England for work; the nature of which he kept suitably vague for Felicia. Back in Ireland her father, played by Gerard McSorley, mutters darkly about the rumours Johnny joined the British army and horribly claims that his daughter now has 'the enemy within her'. It's no wonder she's running away, so hopeless and at a loss to rectify things.

Into Felicia's path comes Hoskins as the grey and meek catering manager Hilditch, a seemingly regular rotund little 'Semi Detached Suburban Mr James', a man who lives in a 1950s timewarp watching old b+w cookery programmes hosted by a buxom Italian matriarch on a small portable, following her instructions to create lavish and large meals that only he alone eats. He wants to help Felicia, help her find Johnny and generally, do right by her. Or so it seems.

The issue really is that Egoyan plays his hand a little too quickly. It's obvious pretty much from the off that Hoskins character is damaged and sinister so that  the eventual reveal that he's a manipulative liar and serial killer in the John Christie mould - hinted at all too early through well crafted video camera style footage of him picking up numerous young 'troubled' girls just like Felicia - has little shock or mystery, alas.

It's clear that both Felicia and Hilditch are characters trapped in their pasts and how they were treated by others. For the former, she is a character unfairly spurned both by a boyfriend who seems to care little (though it seems he too has suffered at the hands of his parent, a mother who refuses to accept and obstructs his relationship with Felicia) and a father who cannot accommodate who she has loved. For the latter, it's the opposite; Hilditch was smothered by love and affection from his mother and it has turned him into a sad twisted overgrown and perpetually overweight schoolboy. What is interesting is how the film, or perhaps Trevor's original source material, seems to concern itself very little with right or with wrong; in its psychological exploration and it's understanding of the inherent similarities between both victim and perpetrator it seems to ask us to understand and to forgive or even to empathise with Hilditch in comparison with and relation to Felicia. Indeed both are portrayed as victims, it's just that one is ultimately more innocent than the other.

The film ends in a manner that some may, and have, argued as too pat. I'm not so sure, I view the timely intrusion of a previously small supporting character - the local Jehovah's Witness - in Hilditch's garden and the subsequent unravelling of his murderous plans quite akin to the curious dog determinedly sniffing around the small back yard of the aforementioned Christie's home, 10 Rillington Place - that other great repressed serial killer drama

With its dark and thought provoking tone, it's certainly an accomplished film that I feel with stay with me and linger in the mind for some time to come.

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