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Review: Black Mountain Poets

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Being a huge fan of Craig Roberts (Submarine) and his awkward geeky humour led me to discover Welsh filmmaker Jamie Adams when, in 2014, Roberts starred in Adams’ feature debut Benny & Jolene. The on-the-road romantic comedy about a duo of indie musicians looking for a career break was the first film in what Adams and producing partner Jon Rennie called the Modern Romance Trilogy. It’s the project they focused on as part of their shingle, Jolene Films, founded in 2012 to produce and distribute romantic dramedies built mostly around improvisation.

It’s a rather interesting and ambitious idea within a British film industry that often offers kitchen sink dramas when it comes to feature debuts. Working off of an outline of the story rather than a fully developed script, Adams relies on the improv skills of his cast and throughout this triple cinematic journey he hasn’t skipped a beat or lost any steam. If anything, he has honed his signature style and has found a tone to his storytelling that besides the humorous shenanigans gets deeper into the mess of human relationships.

The final entry in this ideal trilogy, Black Mountain Poets, arrives in British cinemas after premiering last summer at the Edinburgh Film Festival and despite characters, setting and situation being completely different from Benny & Jolene and the second installment, A Wonderful Christmas Time, a common thread can be found. The awkward heroes of Adams’ stories are all on a quest to find themselves and bump into potentially romantic interests that will help them figure things out.

In Poets, con-gals and sisters Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells) are on the run and wind up stealing a car which leads them to assume the identity of The Wilding Sisters, a couple of famous poets who are supposed to be the special guests at a poetry retreat in the black mountains of Wales. Pretending to be renowned poets isn’t an easy task, especially when asked to free style on the spot but it’s all made more difficult by the hard-to-ignore charm and looks of Richard (Tom Cullen), one of the amateur poets at the retreat.

With Lisa shamelessly trying to seduce him from the moment they meet and Claire trying to contain her sister’s exuberance when Richard’s girlfriend Louise (Rosa Robson) joins the group, only to develop feelings for Richard as well, things are headed for some hilarious moments. Yet what really sticks with the viewer is the sisters’ complicated relationship that needs mending. The cast does a great job at serving Adams’ purpose and improv style with Alice Lowe confirming the comedic force showcased in Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers (2012) and Cullen the vulnerability and magnetism he had in Weekend (2011).

Despite meandering a bit at times, Jamie Adams crafts a fitting ending to his modern romance trilogy with a film that’s more consistently solid when it comes to its emotional impact rather than its comedic elements which can become a bit repetitive. The actors, especially the two female co-protagonists, elevate the material with great chemistry, being entertaining in the humorous situations and believable when delivering the essence of their complicated sisterly bond. The Welsh landscape is vibrant and invites to follow into the footsteps of the character’s idyllic trip plus the soundtrack is wonderfully picked like in Adams’ previous films. The final act is rather strong and moving and the gorgeous cinematography feels like the filmmaker’s ode to his native land. Adams is definitely one to watch and it’s exciting to see what he does next.

3-out-of-5

Black Mountain Poets is out now in selected UK cinemas

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