Tuesday, 17 July 2012

STRAWBERRY FIELDS review

Starring Christine Bottomley and Anna Madeley, this sexually fuelled drama set in the fruit picking fields of Kent is now in cinemas.


Gillian (Anna Madeley), wants to escape her old life and create a new one as a fruit picker in the Kent countryside, adopting a new identity and a new way of life. All is going well until her needy sister Emily (Christine Bottomley) tracks her down and starts to take over her life again, treading over the bonds Gillian has made with new friends and her lover, Kev (Emun Elliott). Placing their sisterly relationship at odds with her desire to become her own person, Gillian must decide what she wants from life and how far she is willing to sacrifice it in order to help Emily.

Gillian is a complex character, and not the one you initially read her as in her introduction on screen. Riding a bicycle around the country lanes and taking someone else's clothes in order to become a new person (complete with a new name, Tammy), at first she seems like a blank canvas, parroting information she overhears in order to create this new identity. But rather than being some Bad Boy Bubby, she's merely a mixed up girl unsure of how much of herself to give over to her new friends.

Sympathies and opinions of Gillian change when Emily arrives on the site wearing what appears to be a ball gown, immediately getting all the attention she craves whilst belittling her sister. In essence an evil 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl' who's a drain on her sister's happiness, while Gillian can survive without Emily, Emily can't without Gillian. Although the group are initially enchanted by Emily and her carefree attitude and sunny disposition, they quickly see through the facade at the troubled young woman underneath. A mixed up girl with undiagnosed mental health issues, Emily acts as a parasite to her sister, destroying Gillian's chances of happiness to ensure she doesn't leave her.

Before seeing Frances Lea's Strawberry Fields I was totally unaware that the fruit picking industry was such a hot bed of sexual tension and activity, but that is what drives this story, be it between Gillian and Kev or Kev and Emily. Gillian's relationship with Kev is akin to her sexual awakening, quickly moving on from his confident advances ("you're not used to being looked at, are you?"), to her initiating sexual congress on the top of hay barns. She may be a woman well out of her teens, but this is the start of her adulthood.


There's also a potent tension between the sisters that borders on the erotic. Gillian is essentially going through a bad break up with Emily and just wants to move on with her new lover, but her demanding ex won't allow it. It could also quite easily be read as two young school girls having a playground spat, but there's also clear echoes of Fatal Attraction and My Summer of Love.

Gorgeously shot using as much 'magic hour' filming and Kent sunsets as possible, the vistas provide a soothing background for a story that has an unexpected capacity to turn dark. Director Frances Lea has said that she sees the film as a study of female sexuality, and through the performances of her two leads she has created just that; even if despite the backstory that is given to the two young women, the issue of Emily's mental illness is left frustratingly vague.


A journey of self discovery that's not the idyllic Tamara Drewe lifestyle it at first seems to be, when the tone of Strawberry Fields shifts dramatically from whimsically sweet to bitter it's like taking a bite out of a freshly picked strawberry, only to discover there's a maggot in it.


Verdict

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