'Black Mountain Poets': Edinburgh Review

Black Mountain Poets Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Edinburgh International Film Festival

Black Mountain Poets Still - H 2015

Four lively turns elevate a freewheeling improvised comedy from Wales.

Jamie Adams' improvised comedy scored an award-winning world debut at the venerable Scottish event.

Two lasses on the lam pose as poetesses in Jamie Adams' slight but likeable comedy Black Mountain Poets, the final segment in the Welsh director's loosely-connected 'Modern Romance Trilogy'. Benefiting from the nifty improvisational skills of leads Alice Lowe and Dolly Wells as the ditzy duo, this uneven, shoestring-budgeted charmer won the Student Critics' Jury Award when world-premiering at Edinburgh and could well amass some kind of cult following via further festival, TV and online exposure. A small UK theatrical and VOD release later this year is planned courtesy of Adams' own Cardiff-based production company Jolene Films — as was the case with Adams' Benny and Jolene and A Wonderful Christmas Time last year. Commercial prospects overseas will meanwhile doubtless be boosted by the prominent presence of Downton Abbey's dashing Lord Gillingham, Tom Cullen.

A frantic, antic nocturnal urban prologue introduces Claire (Wells) and Lisa Walker (Lowe), two thirtysomething sisters who are seemingly engaged in ecologically-motivated sabotage. Bungling the theft of an industrial digger, the inept siblings escape into the countryside, where they do prove successful in stealing a rather smaller form of motorized transport. The car they make off with belongs to successful poets the Wilding sisters (Hannah Daniel, Claire Cage), who were on their way to a literary retreat in the Welsh hills. The scatterbrained Walkers capriciously decide to assume the Wildings' identity, and are welcomed unquestioningly upon arrival at the remote farmhouse where the event is based.

Swallowing the crucial detail that no-one present knows what the Wildings actually look like requires a certain suspension of disbelief, likewise the idea that such an artistically-oriented retreat could culminate in the awarding of a £1,500 ($2,344) cash prize. These quibbles recede, however, as Lowe and Wells skillfully settle into their characterizations as the immature, neurotic Walkers. Luckless in love, they both opportunistically — and desperately — set their sights on struggling versifier Richard (Cullen), a hunky boy-next-door type who's stuck in a tricky relationship with the rather more celebrated Louise (Rosa Robson). Jealousies flare as romantic and creative complications duly ensue.

Reportedly shot in just five days, Black Mountain Poets — the title referencing the seminal North Carolina group of the 1950s — belies its minimal cost thanks to cinematographer Ryan Owen Eddleston's fetching widescreen-digital renditions of the alluringly elemental Welsh countryside. The picture, even with occasional dips in inspiration, generally exudes a beguilingly breezy and casual unpretentiousness that chimes neatly with the Walkers' off-the-cuff approach to their "art", exemplified when Lisa semi-mockingly turns the banal contents of a store receipt into a dramatic poem.

Confirming the promise of her big-screen breakthrough in Ben Wheatley's similarly outward-bound Sightseers (2012), Lowe cements her status as a saturnine gem of the current UK comedy scene. Crucially, she's matched at every step by telly veteran Wells — who has humor in her DNA as the daughter of the terrific satirist John Wells. Adams and company miss a major trick, however, in relegating the "real" Wildings to the sidelines, as Daniel and Cage are consistently hilarious in their fleeting, intermittent appearances as the bemused, bohemian-bard babes.

Production company: Jolene Films
Cast: Alice Lowe, Dolly Wells, Tom Cullen, Rosa Robson, Richard Ellis, Laura Patch, Ben McGregor
Director / Screenwriter / Producer: Jamie Adams
Executive producer: Jon Rennie
Cinematographer: Ryan Owen Eddleston
Production designer: Rachel Jammali
Costume designer: Kay Anderson
Editor: Mike Hopkins
Composer: Ashley Adams
Sales: Jolene, Cardiff
No Rating, 85 minutes