It’s January 4th so Susan Omand watched Charlie Manton’s short film called November 1st, which is shortlisted for a BAFTA Award...
Travelling to witness the execution of her son’s murderer a mother is torn between retaliation and reconnecting with her estranged daughter.
For a short film, this really manages to pack a punch. Essentially played as a double-header between a mother (Lindsay Duncan) and her grown-up daughter (Sophia Myles), the film follows them from a fraught home life as they embark an overnight road-trip to be present at the execution of the man who was convicted 28 years previously of the mother’s young son. We watch the tension grow on the car journey, first to a truck stop restaurant, where the execution is mentioned on the TV news and causes major issues, then to the motel, where a simple slip up causes even more friction between them and we witness the final effects of a long term erosion of relationship that didn’t really have a chance to begin with. As always, though, the kicker comes at the end of the short when you know that the mother realises, with the imminent death of the person who has been the focus of all her hate, her grief and her every waking thought, that there will be nothing left for her after. She has pushed everyone and everything else away.
Myles is convincing as the daughter, always playing catch-up, never doing things quite right, always being blamed, no matter what she does or how hard she tries to get back into her mother’s affections and it is understandable that she eventually loses patience. But it is Duncan who gives a tour de force performance here as the stricken mother. She doesn’t care about anything, or anyone, else so I don’t get the feeling from her of being “torn between retaliation and reconnecting” that the synopsis mentions because there is no two-way connection with someone in that almost fugue state. Her level of disconnect with the real world, as she inhabits her bubble of the past, a haven of grief, revenge and retribution, is palpable and beautifully wrought. The blankness in her eyes, especially as she sits in the bath lost in thought, is utterly amazing to watch and, as a character study of the personal hell that one individual makes themselves endure it is second to none.
Away from the characters, the cinematography of the sweeping landscape shots was beautiful too and the washed-out palette really complemented the mood of the film. However, for me, the handheld “shaky cam” shots in some of the dialogue moments didn’t work as well as it should. I understood what they were trying to achieve, adding a feeling of nervousness and spontaneity to what would otherwise be set-piece arguments but, for me, it came across as amateurish rather than innovative.
But the strength of this short film is in the strength of Lindsay Duncan’s performance and for that reason it absolutely deserves the award nomination.
Image - Charlie Manton