Scarborough is a small British film but it will give you a very big headache. Its subject is teachers who have relationships with pupils and it’s well directed and well performed — Jodhi May is always worth the price of a ticket whatever — but I’m still trying to work out what it has to say. That these relationships are sometimes OK? That they never are? That we shouldn’t judge? God, I hate cinema when it makes you think. And gives you these big headaches.
The film is based on the play by Fiona Evans, first staged at the Edinburgh festival and then at the Royal Court in London. Adapted by Barnaby Southcombe, who also directs, it is set in Scarborough over one weekend and cross cuts between a female teacher, Liz (May), and her pupil, Daz (Jordan Bolger), and a male teacher, Aiden (Edward Hogg), and his pupil, Beth (Jessica Barden). The two pairs never interact or meet despite both staying at the Grand Hotel. I don’t think this film will do much for tourism to Scarborough generally or the Grand in particular, with its faded grandeur and swirly carpets and slyly unctuous concièrge.
It sometimes betrays its theatrical roots. The parallels between the two relationships are emphasised by use of the same dialogue during some mirror-image scenes, particularly at the opening, which all seemed very theatre-y. Or is this the same relationship as played out by different people? You’ll find out. But for now we see them loving, fighting, having sex, paddling, visiting amusement arcades, eating candy floss. Daz and Beth are both about to turn 16. Daz is bouncy and puppyish. Beth is uninhibited and reckless. Aiden loses his temper with her at one point and calls her ‘immature’. ‘Surprise!’ she retorts. Both teachers are beset by shame and guilt but can’t let go. Is there love? All I could think was: Daz and Beth are children. Beth carries a teddy around with her, FFS. We are meant, I think, to sympathise with Aiden and Liz to some extent, given their back stories, but again all I could think was: Daz and Beth are children. When Liz says to Daz: ‘You’re just a kid and you don’t know any better and you shouldn’t have to,’ I wanted to say: ‘You should have thought of that earlier, love.’ But by that time I was judging quite badly. We are asked to see the relationship, not the crime, and I did try to see the relationship, but the crime kept getting in the way. They can be like that, crimes.
But as I said, it is well directed and it is well performed and while certain plot points don’t add up — would anyone really not want to know the results of a fertility test? — there is a neat twist at the end that you absolutely don’t see coming. And ultimately, I suppose, you have to accept that such relationships happen and can even have a future. Emmanuel Macron, for example, met his wife when he was a 15-year-old schoolboy and she was his 40-year-old married teacher. But you know what? Still creeps me out. Should it? Or shouldn’t it? Big headache, this one… but Downton Abbey next week. Thank God.