Deborah Ross

Sting in the tail

The Scouting Book for Boys<br /> 15, Key Cities

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The Scouting Book for Boys

15, Key Cities

This week, I should probably have seen Old Dogs starring John Travolta and Robin Williams as ‘two best friends who have their lives turned upside down when they’re unexpectedly charged with the care of six-year-old twins’ but I saw the trailer on TV and couldn’t do it. I felt repelled. I felt repelled even though I knew it would be a bad film and bad films make for good, easy copy. Copy-wise, bad films are like stealing candy from a baby, which is as easy as everyone says it is. In fact, I’ve recently stolen so much candy from babies that I now have enough to last months. Generally, I blame the parents. Knowing how easy it is to steal this candy — heck, there is even a common expression that says as much! — why don’t they sew the lollipops into the baby’s clothes or blankets? It’s not rocket science, is it? Doh!

So, no Old Dogs, even though it’s the biggest film of the week, and, instead, The Scouting Book for Boys, which is one of those low-budget, gritty British films (yes, one of those) set in a woebegone caravan park (and one of those). It is directed by newcomer Tom Harper and the screenplay is by Jack Thorne, who has written for the TV shows Shameless and Skins, both of which I have seen only occasionally. I can’t just sit around watching telly. I’ve got candy to steal! Anyway, it stars Thomas Turgoose, who was fabulous as the little boy in Shane Meadows’ This is England, and is now quite a big boy. He plays David, a troubled teen in love with his best friend, Emily (Holliday Grainger). Scouting describes itself as ‘a coming-of-age love story with a sting in the tail’ and it is quite a sting. It’s also rather hard-going, sometimes dull and as troubled as its protagonists. What does this film want to be, exactly? Damn, this is going to be difficult. I should have just done Old Dogs. I can sometimes be my own worst enemy, time permitting.

The film opens happily enough with David and Emily indulging in jolly japes and generally getting up to mischief. They jump from caravan roof to caravan roof. They frolic in the pool. They spy on an old woman getting undressed, which is a bit pervy. They race through wheatfields, which is less pervy. But their happiness is shattered when Emily’s alcoholic mother Sharon (Susan Lynch) announces she has lost custody and Emily must go and live with her father. Emily doesn’t want this. David doesn’t want this. Together, they hatch a plan: Emily will hide away in a cave by the sea without telling anyone. It will be their secret. It’s not a very good plan, frankly, and it quickly turns nasty. The police instigate a manhunt. A security guard (Rafe Spall), accused of kidnapping Emily, is hounded by the local community. Kill that paedo! Plus, Emily has her own secrets. Oh, yes.

This is a film made with some verve and a real sense of place and atmosphere, but as a character study the main characters lack ...well ...character, I suppose. Emily is lively enough, but in a vacant way, while David doesn’t even seem all there. This has nothing to do with Turgoose’s performance, and everything to do with the fact the script doesn’t give him that much to go on. David is sometimes shyly adoring. Other times, he is darkly confused. Either way he is dull and inarticulate, and while most teenagers are dull and inarticulate — I have a teenage son who is so dull and inarticulate it almost beggars belief — it’s not very interesting to watch. (As it is, I often ask my son to go and be dull and inarticulate in the other room.) And there is also a question of tone. If this film is seriously intended, and wants to make a point about the mass hysteria that always surrounds the disappearance of a child, why are the secondary characters so ludicrous? Lynch plays Sharon as if channelling a deranged Amy Winehouse, while Steven Mackintosh, who plays the local copper, appears to have wandered in from some comic pastiche being shot on another planet entirely. It’s bizarre. It also means the whole thing never hangs as one story or properly convinces. Good ending, though. Totally shocking, but that rather is its point.

Although Scouting doesn’t quite hit the mark it’s a promising debut, as they say, and it’ll be interesting to see what Harper and Thorne come up with next. Next for us? The Blind Side, starring Sandra Bullock, who won an Oscar, even though the film is said to be atrocious. I can’t wait. Candy, baby ...I think you can fill the rest in for yourself.