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CIFF 2013 – LAD: A YORKSHIRE STORY review

October 16, 2013

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written by: Dan Hartley

produced by: Dan Hartley and Sherman 

directed by: Dan Hartley

rating: unrated

runtime:  96 min.

U. S. release date:  unknown

(currently screening on October 12, 14 & 17, 2013 at the Chicago International Film Festival) 

 

For his first feature-length film, writer/director Dan Hartley drew upon his own experience, growing up in the Yorkshire Dales of North England. His coming-of-age family drama “Lad: A Yorkshire Story” is loosely based on a park ranger who became something of a surrogate father to him during his teen years. It’s a tender and poignant tale with wonderful moments of comedic levity, shot on location in the picturesque countryside where Hartley grew up. It’s a film that will connect with audiences of all ages because at its heart, it touches on something we all desire, the need to connect and be accepted wherever we’re at in life.

Thirteen year-old Tom Proctor (Bretten Lord) and his older brother Nick (Robert Hayes) live with their mother (Nancy Clarkson) and father (Liam Thomas), who works in a  Yorkshire rock quarry. Like most little brothers, Tom tries to fit in by hanging out with his brother and has an affinity for collecting unique local rocks and fossils, a hobby he developed with his father. As expected, both brothers are oblivious to the hardships of their working class parents.

And then the father suddenly dies. Tom’s mother is devastated and his brother becomes angry and joins the military. Tom lashes out in an illegal act of rebellion resulting in the local police assigning the lad to community service. As his overwhelmed mother tries to make ends meet and get a trucker’s license in order to keep up with mortgage payments, Tom reluctantly goes to work with a widowed park ranger Al Thorpe (Alan Gibson, reminding me of Peter Mullan).

 

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The patient and kind Al treats Tom like an equal, encouraging his knack for dry stone wall building and subtlety serves as a needing source of guidance. Tom is introduced to Lucy (Molly McGlynn), Al’s forthright sixteen year-old granddaughter, whom he hesitantly builds a friendship with. With the support of Al and his mother, Tom is eventually able to face the inevitable changes in life, while taking stock in the loved ones that surround him.

After working the festival circuit for a good while, Hartley has brought “Lad: A Yorkshire Story” to the Chicago International Film Festival. Watching it reminded me of the main reason I attend each year. It’s a place where I can see films that expose me to people and places I would normally never have known about. Such is the case with “Lad”, an impressively crafted picture with captivating performances and a compelling story that resonates on many levels.

From the start, what I found most striking about the film is how it accentuates the vibrant colors of the geography. Cinematographer David Mackie (who Hartley had met while working as a camera operator on the “Harry Potter” films) is working with the beautiful landscape of the Yorkshire Dales, so emphasizing the lush greens and stark earth tones  is only logical for a film promoting “A Yorkshire Story”. The audience is easily immersed in the title’s setting, but what really hooks us are the film’s characters, who come across so effortlessly real and natural.

Hartley was fortunate to have gotten such fine work out of predominately first-time actors. The cast is made up almost entirely of those indigenous to the area with no previous acting experience. That’s impressive, considering how so many of these actors are unassuming and simply disappear into their roles. As young Tom, newcomer Bretten Lord is extremely intuitive and assured. The scenes where we watch Lord interact with Gibson or with Clarkson are some of the most honest and truthful scenes I’ve seen all year. While the supporting actors we see are just as fitting and talented, Hartley gets some truly special work out of these three actors and they are certainly names I will be looking for more closely in the future.

 

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Like any great film though, it has to have a solid story to succeed. Sure, it may seem like a basic story of a boy and his family and the man who profoundly impacted him, but  “Lad” is proof that sometimes the simplest stories can be the most meaningful and moving. As he draws on his own life experiences, Hartley connects to viewers by allowing us remember that there is likely a certain adult – a teacher or relative – who had shaped our lives in some way when we were young, serving as a catalyst to help us gain direction or at least a solid footing in life.

Seeing Tom and Al together, I found myself recalling the similar relationships I had in my life when I was Tom’s age. It made me glad a film like this is made. We all have our own stories to tell, but what each story has is someone who mentored us, who had our backs and believed in our own capabilities. From the outside, “Lad: A Yorkshire Story” has a tale to tell that may feel specific to a certain time and location, but it’s themes of loss, change and strength are universal, connecting to a viewer of any age.

I feel enriched to have seen it and naturally would like everyone else to watch it as well. At this time, “Lad: A Yorkshire Story” has not been picked up by a distributor and that’s just baffling to me.  It’s hard to believe that such a personal and wonderful independent film cannot get signed on. Hopefully that will change.

 

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RATING: ****

 

Follow Dan Hartley’s site, www.roguerunner.com, for any updates on the film’s release and to check out his short films as well. I’ll be posting my interview with Hartley very shortly. In the meantime, you have one last time to see “Lad: A Yorkshire Story” – today at the Chicago International Film Festival (CIFF) at 1:30pm.

 

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