Friday, 17 July 2015

The Outcast

This is a truly excellent adaptation of Sadie Jones' dark and brooding novel about a troubled teenager. The book apparently started out as a screenplay and Jones has had a major hand in the book's transformation back into a film. And it shows. Highly evocative scenes you remember from the story have such resonance on the screen. The childhood innocence of play and bicycles. The cosy familiarity between mother Elizabeth and son Lewis. The awful, shocking moment of the boy watching his mother drown. The father Gilbert unable to express his grief, announcing his wife's death to an empty room over and over. The bullying and abusive Dickie Carmichael, beating his spirited daughter. The troubled new stepmother Alice, unable to cope with her very disturbed charge, and desperate for a baby of her own. The gin-sodden Soho jazz clubs, a wild blur for the growing teenager searching for freedom and release. The painful rawness of self-harm. The self-destruction and self-loathing. The unspoken blame. The stifling repression of post-war 1950s society, the inability to communicate, and the sheer dullness of living in a narrow-minded village community in commuter-belt Surrey.

It's not an easy watch, by any means. At the end of the first half, Lewis burns down the village church in anger and, despite his youth, is sent to prison. And nothing will have changed or be any better for him upon his release.

This is not the world I grew up in, but it is the world my parents grew up in. Not in Surrey for them, but it was the 1940s and '50s, a time of absent fathers returning home to children grown and estranged, a time of loss, hardship, rationing and failing to come to terms with what has been witnessed at war. My mother went on to study Psychology at university - perhaps a reflection of the needs of the time, as a nation began to want to talk, and delve into its innermost thoughts and feelings. Or perhaps just her own ability to see people for what they were, to understand them completely, in her infinite wisdom.

I have lived on the Surrey borders, for a time, in Earlsfield in Southwest London. My now husband was employed by the county council as a political assistant. From Earlsfield we went on country walks in Surrey most weekends, taking the train from Clapham Junction. There was always cake, and beer and chips at the end. The Devil's Punchbowl, the vineyards of Boxhill, the woods of Liphook and Haslemere. the donkeys at Witney, the golf courses near Godalming, the pub at Chiddingfold, the race course at Esher. Surrey hardly struck us as repressed in 2003, just as wealthy as you might expect, and rather full of itself. Perhaps the types like Lewis are still kept behind closed doors. But there will still be gin. On the lawns in summer. A mother's ruin.

And yet I failed to take my camera on a single one of them.

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