“A fella got fresh about a tart I was hook on,” types a screenwriter who’s apparently never met a working-class person in his life. “In the future, Cass,” says another character, played by the screenwriter as it happens, “I’d like you to cease the habit you’ve got of trying to make my wife discontented.” Cape Forlorn, the latest cinematic obscurity released by Network Distribution as part of their ‘British Film’ project, is stagey and then some; though, if it were on stage, at least you could throw things at the actors.
It did, in fact, begin life as a play, and its writer, Frank Harvey, appears here as one quarter of what the press notes un-mathematically describe as a ‘love triangle’. Harvey’s a lighthouse keeper, keeping a lighthouse for all his worth while his unfulfilled wife cops off with any other fella who washes up on the shore.
Lighthouses are dramatic locations – a rocky, remote, cut off amidst a storm-tossed sea – so its quite an achievement how un-claustrophobic the film feels for much of its running time. In fact, with all the fishing and fresh cooking, it seems pretty pleasant. Even a sailor thrown into the sea during a violent swell can’t fear much more than a bump on the head.
The direction is a mish-mash of incompetency. Characters introduce themselves to people they already know, scenes are broken in the middle of conversations, and the camera swings around drunkenly – so you’re never quite sure if the operator has missed his mark or if the director of photography really does want us to focus on that enamel jug for a few seconds.
But there are also moments of almost astounding competency. There’s a classy shot of the lighthouse keeper’s wife creeping down the spiral steps in the dead of night, another of a fight seen in the shadows it throws across the heroine’s terrified face. The third act even reaches passability as the lighting becomes more extreme, the characters are wound tighter and some semblance of a plot emerges.
Cape Forlorn feels as if it was directed by three different people, of varying ability, all battling for the whiskey bottle (it was actually directed by just one). It wastes the potential of its setting, and is only intermittently able to get some visual excitement out of a dialogue-led script. It has some terrific moments, but appalling minutes.
Cape Forlorn is available on DVD from 31 March
Follow Michael Mills on Twitter.