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British Film Review: SPARKS AND EMBERS
Directed By Gavin Boyter
Comedy - Drama - Romance
SPARKS AND EMBERS follows the same 2 characters but jumps back and forth between 2 time frames split by five years. It tells the story of Tom (Kris Marshall) who has just been made redundant from a record company (due to the advent of downloads) and Eloise (Annelise Hesme), a French consultant who’s recommendations made it happen. As Tom leaves the office to an uncertain future, he gets accidentally stuck in a lift for six hours with Eloise. They move from awkward strangers to open hostility to fancying each other cooped up over several hours in this small space. Cut to five years later on Christmas Eve – after an intense relationship they’ve been broken up for a year and Tom is meeting Eloise on a walk to Waterloo in order try and win her back before she gets on a train right then to Paris and be married to an unseen evil banker type. The film moves between these two locations and time periods – the lift 5 years ago and London’s Southbank today.
The second half is impressively filmed on location along the South Bank and Director Gavin Boyter does a stellar job of creating the atmosphere of a London Christmas eve with all kinds of interactions and iconic locations as well as the Christmas lights as Tom and Eloise amble along to Waterloo. It is rare to see such a realistic depiction of a part of London on film and locals, ex-pats along with tourists who have visited the city will probably enjoy the walk. The scenes set 5 years in the past are done well also, using old technology (perhaps a little too old) and fashions to evoke the past. Boyter wears his Richard Linklater influences on his sleeve with touches of Woody Allen and Richard Curtis in there as well. In his leads, he has cast two very strong and likeable actors in Kris Marshall (Love Actually, My Family and those BT ads) and Annelise Hesme (those Renault France V England ads) with a script that hits all the notes expected in any self-respecting Romantic Comedy… however there is just something missing.
Although the leads are both wonderful, they just don’t have the chemistry between each other to give us anything to root for. Perhaps if we had seen more of the early stages of their relationship as it blossomed there would be more room but we just see them fight and there isn’t enough of any kind of sexual tension between them. The spark mentioned in the title does come and is probably the best moment in the film but it is a fleeting moment. Near the end, right after the first kiss there is something in the performances that sizzles and as Eloise and Tom walk away from each other there is an amazing moment of magic… it’s just a shame we had to sit through an hour of arguments and a pretty cliché (and totally unearned) first kiss to get there.
Another issue with the film is that Kris Marshall is an incredibly likeable on-screen presence but his character is atrocious, particularly with regard to his casual misogyny which makes the beautiful, smart and successful Eloise’s attraction to him difficult to feel anything but contrived. It’s difficult to believe that any man (straight or otherwise) would be anything but delighted to be stuck in a lift with Eloise’s feisty Gallic charm. Hesme gives her character an inner strength and confidence as well as a sense of humour which works really well.
The script aims for a gentle, pleasant, romantic feel but the film doesn’t have a strong enough tone which means that the many cliché moments stand out. Also, behind the enchantment of Linklater’s Before films or the wit of some of Woody Allen’s or Richard Curtis’ better films is a maturity and honesty that just is missing in this film. Special mention to Waleed Akhtar who plays the security guard Tariq and is mostly off screen, the character is fully realised and a pretty delightful break from the tireless bickering in the lift.
SPARKS AND EMBERS is in UK cinemas 18 December 2015.
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