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EIFF 2018: Winterlong (2018) written and directed by David Jackson

N.B. This film is not on wide release in the UK at present. It is showing at the Edinburgh International Film Festival on Saturday 30th June and Sunday 1st July 2018.

A poacher meets his estranged son

Francis Magee plays Francis, a poacher living off the grid near the English coastal town of Hastings. One day, his estranged wife Kaye (Robin Weaver) dumps off their teenage son Julian (Harper Jackson) in front of his caravan before driving away in a taxi. Needless to say, Julian is initially upset at his mother taking off and leaving him with a father whom he has had no contact with for a long time.

The pair soon begin to bond when, under an oath of secrecy, Francis shows Julian a collection of guns which he has stashed away under a nearby discarded mattress. The father also acquaints his son with his girlfriend Carole (Carole Weyers), a Belgian rock musician who persuades them to relocate to a nicer, cleaner caravan park. Julian takes up with Taylor (Nina Iceton), a girl whom he spots in both the park’s swimming pool and in his class at his new school. However, a resultant act of youthful rashness on his part causes a dramatic event to occur which puts everything in jeopardy.

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A better-than-average tale of father-son reconciliation

Winterlong is the first feature-length film to have been written and directed by David Jackson, who has previously worked on such notable British TV series Holby City and The Bill. While the theme of father-son reconciliation is hardly virgin cinematic territory, this film nonetheless offers a good deal of interest in the finer details.

The drama hinges heavily on performances and characterisations. Francis is a rough-hewn and unconventional man who evidently doesn’t care for the rules of wider society and clearly struggles in the area of responsible parenting. However, while he definitely has his faults, he still feels like a rounded and sympathetic human being. Actor Francis Magee (Game of Thrones) portrays him with a captivating blend of gruffness and roguish charm. The director’s real-life son Harper Jackson (whose only other IMDB credit is for a role in his father’s 2009 short The Last Breath) is also convincing as a relatively ordinary adolescent who has to deal with quite an emotional rollercoaster ride throughout. In the process, he is revealed to have far more in common with his unorthodox father than initial appearances suggest.

Frances Magee and Harper Jackson in Winterlong

However, while most of the film focuses on the father-son bonding, the third act feels more like a thriller than a straight drama. This shift in gears helps to alleviate the fact that similar stories have been told before. The romance between Julian and Taylor is also neatly developed as a subplot; Harper Jackson and Nina Iceton display some convincing chemistry during their scenes together. On the downside, there are a few too many contrivances in the script, as well as one or two other subplots which are introduced but never really go anywhere.

The supporting cast is solid across the board. Doon Mackichan (best known for her roles in comedy TV series such as The Day Today and Smack the Pony) is particularly memorable as a lonely woman living in the caravan park. Her role is semi-comedic as she puts the moves on Francis by way of some cookery and an innuendo or two. Carole Weyers is also fine as Francis’s onscreen girlfriend although her character is too heavily sidelined for much of the runtime.

Winterlong is an enjoyable and well-shot drama. While there are a few shortcomings in terms of overall storyline construction, the quality of the performances and central character development do much to offset this.

Runtime: 90 mins

Dir: David Jackson

Script: David Jackson

Starring: Francis Magee, Carole Weyers, Doon Mackichan, Robin Weaver, Ian Puleston-Davies, Harper Jackson, Nina Iceton

Rating: ☆☆☆1/2

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