Shot entirely on the Isle of Man, Albatross tells the story of Emelia Conan Doyle (Jessica Brown-Findlay), a troubled 17-year-old budding writer who befriends Beth (Felicity Jones) while working at the hotel owned by Beth’s father Jonathan (Sebastian Koch). Emilia’s (ahem) free-spirited nature ignites a rebellious streak in Beth, and sexual tension with Jonathan, much to the chagrin of his wife Joa (Julia Ormond). Sadly, it’s all a lot less interesting than it should have been, though.
One of the reasons that Albatross fails is that, despite its coming-of-age handle, the film deals with a multitude of themes and plot points in rapid succession. Focus is divided between Emelia turning Beth into an equally decadent young woman and her affair with Jonathan, along with a lot of other tangential nonsense that often falls by the wayside. Over the course of the film, we see issues of writer’s block, teen rebellion, extramarital affairs, pregnancy scares and even dementia fight each other for screen time, meaning none have any impact.
Miss Conan Doyle is probably the film’s biggest problem. Written as a deluded fantasist who not only believes she’s genuinely related to the Sherlock Holmes author (as she’s quick to remind people), but also that wearing mismatched clothing and, gasp, underage drinking makes her a rebel. The film’s constant need to telegraph everything about its protagonist constantly undermines any effect it’s trying to have.
Everyone acts like Amelia’s actions are shocking and outrageous when in reality they’re eye-rollingly tame. She only mention the F-word to pass for wit, and everyone smiles and the music twinkles as though we’ve just watched George Carlin crush a heckler. Maybe she would seem rebellious to a quaint, old-fashioned seaside community, but the film is happy to simply soak up the Isle of Man’s scenery rather than characterise it.
You can see the film’s problem of inconsistency in its title, in this case referring to Emelia’s fantasy as being a burden around her neck that’s keeping her from reaching her true potential as a writer. Yet her belief that’s she’s related to Conan Doyle never stops her writing, and her biggest problems come from the fact that she makes stupid decisions for her own indulgence. It’s not so much an albatross as a red herring, unnecessarily shoehorned in for poignancy points.
The only credit you can give its use is that it features in the film’s one enjoyable scene, delivered by none other than Peter Vaughn from Game Of Thrones, who seems to be the only member of the talented cast whose performance can elevate the sub-par material.
Ordinarily, I like actresses Jessica Brown-Findlay and Felicity Jones, and both give serviceable performances that unfortunately do nothing for the film. Here the Downton Abbey star is badly miscast, as her upper-class accent is ill-suited to a supposedly dirt poor character, and lacks the comedic skill to overcome the clumsy humour.
By contrast, Jones shines in what is mostly a do-nothing role, if not overselling her unconditional love for Emelia (almost reaching My Summer Of Love territory). The real albatross around this film’s neck, though, is Koch. Brilliant though he was in The Lives Of Others, Koch seems strangely lifeless in a role that demands both charm and sympathy.
Finding the good in Albatross, like the strong performances and the enjoyable scene with Vaughn, requires far too much sifting through the bad. The clumsy dialogue, inconsistency of plot and lifeless or outright irritating characters make this a truly sub-standard coming of age tale.
Aside from the trailer, we get a scant ten-minute making-of documentary in which screenwriter Tamzin Rafn hints at the amount of wish-fulfilment that went into the script. Given that the film lacks any technical innovation to document, the most the making-of can offer is some gorgeous shots of the Isle of Man.
You can rent or buy Albatross at Blockbuster.co.uk.