Made in Britain: Franklyn (2008)
When the National Lottery was set up, some of the takings were put aside to create a fund for charities, good causes, and culture. This has been, almost totally without exception (there are a few), an unmitigated disaster for the viewer. In the most part the films funded have been “right-on” art films (My Son the Fanatic), shameless commercial but not good enough to attract studio interest nonsense (Shooting Fish), dreadfully unfunny comedies starring a TV hot property (The Parole Officer) and the occasional gem (28 Days Later). The “hit” rate of worthwhile films funded by the Lottery is so bad, that it almost isn’t worth thinking about as it will make you ill. In the meantime, Channel 4’s film division, Film 4, also produced films, some of which (The Full Monty, Trainspotting to name two easy ones) went on to massive global success. So, in the mid 21st Century, the time was ripe for Gerald McMorrow to pluck these low hanging fruits with his sky-high concept film, Franklyn.
And they gave him £6m. £6m to a first time writer-director. This pisses me off so much when you consider that Neil Marshall and Edgar Wright don’t get that from British sources. Although after Scott Pilgrim, I’m not convinced Wright deserves it any more. We really do need to pull our fingers out and get Astrodykes v Werewolves on the Moon written, before people wise up to this kind of funding.
Anyhow, McMorrow has to be given credit here. I cannot for the life of me work out how he managed to get funding for this film as, being generous, the script to Franklyn is a downright mess. The concept is fairly sound, and there is a good film in here struggling to get out, but it is smothered beneath extraneous storylines that do little more than confuse the issue. Someone should have seen this and as a direct consequence withheld funding. That he managed to hit the lottery up for so much cash shows a real snake-oil salesman at work, and I always sort of sneakily admire a well pulled off scam. If the joke wasn’t on us, that is.
Franklyn is a film of four parts that McMorrow attempts to bring together in the finale. The first part is the story of Preest, Ryan Phillipe, a Private Eye operating in the dystopian Meanwhile City. Meanwhile City is run by religious dogma, and Preest is the only atheist who spends his time searching for “The Individual” who he blames for the death of a girl. In contemporary London, however, Peter Esser (Bernard Hill) is searching for his son, David (who is suffering from PTSD). Absolutely no prizes at all for guessing the identity of David, although credit to Phillipe for a reasonable English accent, and to be fair, the film doesn’t hide this. These two storylines should form the heart of the film, but sadly they don’t. Instead we’ve got Milo (Sam Riley) mooching around being all lovestruck and talking to his old friend Sally, played by Eva Green. Green also plays Emilia, who in a staggeringly pointless sideplot is an art student filming ridiculous and overwrought suicide attempts for a project. The film tries to draw all 4 strands together, and the climax is frustrating in how contrived it is and how unsatisfactory the resolution is.
This is a very, very good-looking film. It may have been relatively well-funded by British standards, but McMorrow did a fantastic job getting it all on the screen. The future sections in particular are supremely sumptuous and look absolutely amazing, particularly in contrast to the seedy low-rent London that the “real” part of the film takes place in. To complement the look of the film, the acting is also very good for the most part. Phillipe was good, Green is better as Sally than she is as Emilia, but passable in both, and Hill is excellent. However, there’s a big black hole of acting here and that’s Riley. He seems to mistake turning his collar up and pouting for putting in a performance. It doesn’t help, admittedly, that Milo is an utter drip in need of a good bitch slap, but still, this is a lousy performance from an otherwise talented actor.
As I’ve already said, the problem is that the film is amazingly muddled. The Milo section in particular should have been cut, as it adds nothing to events and serves as an annoying distraction. The Emilia part is also riven with problems, events are moving forward, and then the film comes to a crashing halt so she can go and talk to a mystic hospital porter (not joking, sadly). The Preest section on the other hand is hugely involving and rattles along at a rare old pace, as does the Esser narrative, and it’s immensely interesting to see the events from Preest’s perspective then the look of horror on Hill’s face as he deals with the reality of the situation, and the mess that his badly disturbed son has created. Were I to rewrite this film, then I’d drop the axe on the Milo section in its entirety and draw the Emilia story into the Preest narrative. We want to see the dystopia, this is the heart and soul of the film, and this bloody tiresome moping garbage with Milo is annoying to say the least.
Overall, I can’t say I recommend this. It isn’t crap, but it’s frankly (heh) a confused and irritating mess. There is a great film lurking below the surface, and it does indeed look fantastic, but, really, the focus is off and the storyline not properly centred. At the end of the day, there was the chance of something special here, but it’s been horribly botched and watching Franklyn leaves me with the feeling of “If only”. Franklyn is meh when it could have been special, and so I give it 1.5 Robot Marias out of 4. This is a crying shame.
Until next time,