One Life Stand
"I'd like to finish with a word of warning. You may have started something. The British are coming." If that statement, made by Colin Welland during his 1981 Oscar acceptance speech for Chariots Of Fire, is true then the British have been taking their bloody time. More than 25 years on, it's only now that British cinema seems to be at the beginnings of resurgence that could put it at a level as it was during the 1960s. Whilst it's true to say that the talents such as Danny Boyle and Stephen Frears amongst others have provided many high spots over the past couple of decades they have been - comparatively - few and far between. Now with recent Cannes winners such as Red Road, commercial genre successes in the shape of Shaun Of The Dead and The Descent plus a thriving independent scene our indigenous industry may not be fully resurrected, but its certainly pulling itself out of a hole. So it's quite timely that May Miles Thomas' One Life Stand has found its way on to DVD after some years in the wilderness.
Made in 2000, One Life Stand is the first ever digital feature made in the UK but it has taken Elemental Films more than 5 years to get the rights to the film back so they can release the film themselves. Still groundbreaking and inventive more than 5 years after its initial release, it's a film that not only remains an example of many of the traps that UK filmmakers can fall in but also an illustration of what the UK can achieve when it properly nurtures its talent.
Trise Clarke (Maureen Carr in a brilliant performance) is a single mum who struggles to understand 18-year-old son John Paul. Trying to gain more independence for both herself and her son, she finds herself working for a psychic hotline whilst she finds her son work as a male model. Soon John Paul discovers that he's required to be much more than a model and begins earning money as a male escort. Trise now becomes determined to get her son back. What lengths will she go to?
Narratively, it initially appears as if the films could easily drift into the realms of the ridiculous. Yet it is Miles Thomas' confident and understated direction that keeps any notion of melodrama at bay. Eschewing the traditional route of showing the shops and flats of urban Scotland as gritty and nasty, she imbues everything with a serene beauty partly thanks to the use of black and white. There's also a fine senseThe cast also help as they are uniformly excellent. Carr is achingly sympathetic in the central role whilst John Kielty balances the naiviety and arrogance of John Paul with believability. Strong support is also provided from the likes of Gary Lewis (though I do think the Scottish Parliament have passed a law making it compulsory for him to appear in every Scottish movie made). However, not everything is flawless: as the film goes on, it does seem to lose the plot slightly leaving the conclusion somewhat flat as it tries to tie everything together. It's also a little too long and sometimes struggles to sustain itself.
The extras are actually really good, surprising in a time when most DVDs pad themselves out with useless tat. Whilst it would have been great if Miles Thomas could have provided a commentary, the featurette ‘Adventures in DV - Making One Life Stand' is a must see. Not only a great crash course for first time filmmakers, it also looks at the difficulties of actually getting the film seen. Refreshingly honest and inspiring they should make everyone who attends a film school watch it.
Ultimately, a film should stand on its own merits. On that score, One Life Stand succeeds with aplomb with a fine take on the complicated relationship between a mother and her son. However, beyond that, it's proof that filmmakers with drive, talent and passion not only have a chance to get their films made but also get their films seen. It may have taken Elemental Films a while (and let's hope Miles Thomas' second feature, the criminally ignored Solid Air, also gets some recognition) but they can lay claim to being at the forefront of what will - hopefully - be a renaissance for British filmmaking. Keep going .... I think Colin Welland's been waiting for you at the finish line for quite a while now.
You can buy the DVD One Life Stand at www.elementalfilms.co.uk. Whilst you're there you might also want to get a copy of the film's excellent soundtrack.
Region: 0 (All)
Running Time: 118 mins
Subtitles: English, German