WEEKEND RETREAT

3.5 out of 10

Release date: 5th November 2011 (DVD Premiere)

Director: Brett Harvey (Brown Willy)

Cast: Esther Hall, Dominic Coleman, Simon Harvey, Dean Nolan, Daniel Harvey and Dudley Sutton

Writer: Brett Harvey

Trailer: Not available

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The Harvey Brothers are probably the closest the Duchy of Cornwall has to auteurs at the time of writing. A merry band of filmmakers who have so far made a clutch or documentaries, shorts and two fictional features. Weekend Retreat was their first, and the much improved follow up was Brown Willy.  Their feature debut shows a lot of promise and some of the quirks and invention they’d apply to the second film, alas, as much as you’d like Weekend Retreat to be a winner, it largely flops due to the same damining factors that trip up so many low-budget filmmakers – a ropey script, weird plotting and uneven acting from a mixture of industry pros and locals.

A warring couple, Esther Hall (BLACK MIRROR) and Dominic Coleman (COLD FEET) turn up at a holiday cottage. Unfortunately, on the same day, two dim-witted brothers, Simon Harvey (BROWN WILLY) and DEAN NOLAN (TIN) turn up at the house to burgle the dreaded ‘second-home’ owner, Dudley Sutton (ORLANDO). A caper ensues that sees switched allegiances wreck everybody’s plans, and the idea of a peaceful break goes out of the window as things get comically out of control.

Weekend Retreat starts with an extended flashback, which anyone who had holidays in Cornwall growing up will love, as it features the desolate children theme park Flambards. Two young brothers go around on several rides before facing the 40ft ‘Wall of Death’ which seems to be the defining moment in the burglars’ lives. This is a wonderfully presented scene and its a shame that rest of the film rarely gains these levels of entertainment again. A scene about halfway through when one of the burglars gives a shoulder to cry on, and unexpected comfort to Esther Hall at the climax of an exhausting chase is the best bit by miles and is possibly the main reason for watching this muddled debut. It’s a film which demonstrates the stories potential, and also the opportunities missed to make this a truly funny break out picture. As it is Weekend Retreat remains a little-known curio which fans of Brown Willy may go and seek out to get more of the same. Unfortunately, these guys were still only learning the trade and had quite a way to go before they got it right. On the plus side, it takes some filmmakers ages to get a good film made, check out Steve M Smith or Steve Lawson, who put out lots of films, all terrible with no sign of improvement on the horizon. The Harvey Brothers well and truly upped their game by scaling back with Brown Willy, coming up with a smaller cast, and concentrating on the craft of presenting a humourous film, with a great soundtrack and some of the best landscape cinematography I’ve seen in a no-budget film.

A good try, but I’m afraid despite the ‘real’ actors on duty, Weekend Retreat is largely a patience tester and could have been much funnier. Here’s to future projects though, because there is evidence of talent on the rise here.

3.5 out of 10 – Clunky, mildly funny marriage farce, tripped up by lethargic plotting and uneven acting. Stick to the Harvey Brothers’ second film Brown Willy. Much funnier, much better.

Review below by Matt Usher

WHAT HAVE I SEEN THAT ACTOR IN BEFORE?

  • Esther Hall: Black Mirror (TV), Mount Pleasant (TV), Doctors (TV), Rome (TV), Waking The Dead (TV), Spooks (TV), Queer As Folk (TV), Land Girls
  • Dominic Coleman: The Devil Went Down To Islington, Cold Feet (TV), Paddington, We Are The Freaks, Sex Lives of the Potato Men
  • Simon Harvey: Brown Willy
  • Dean Nolan: Tin
  • Dudley Sutton: Tin, Fall of An Empire, Cockneys Vs. ZombiesOutside Bet, The Shouting Men, Lovejoy (TV), Dean Spanley, Eastenders (TV), The Football Factory, The Tichborne Claimant, Incognito (1997), Orlando, Edward II, The Rainbow, The Devils, The London Connection, The Pink Panther Strikes Again, The Leather Boys

 

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One thought on “WEEKEND RETREAT

  1. Well, this is an odd one and no mistake. It’s an example of the ‘burglary goes wrong during a marital breakdown’ genre, and it eloquently demonstrates why that genre is so rare (though there was HOSTILE HOSTAGES with Denis Leary and the mum from MARY POPPINS).

    Dominic Coleman and Esther Hall portray a troubled couple, who have decided to go for a romantic weekend in a cottage in Cornwall/Devon/Somerset/somewhere-like-that in order to patch things up / end it (delete according to spouse). But all is not well: burglars intervene and attempt to open a secret hidden safe which contains we know not what. Nothing goes to plan, shenanigans, hilarious consequences and horrifying violence ensue, along with the revelations of secrets, lies, grudges, hopes and dreams, (supposedly) odd (but actually quite predictable) alliances are forged, and poetic justice is dished out.

    But the film’s a lot odder than that summary suggests, in both good and bad ways. Structurally the film is a bit awkward (though I like what they were attempting). After an (initially unexplained) opening flashback sequence of sepia-ish home video footage of two boys at a funfair, the film then cuts to the very nice cottage in the present day. A man, clad in black (Dudley Sutton from Lovejoy and The Devils) is preparing – but for what? Then he vanishes just as the unhappy couple arrive. We follow their chilly, faltering half-hearted attempts to rekindle the spark, and then the villains appear on the scene. At which point the film flashes back and we see the same events, but this time from the point of view of the intruders,, who are interested in the contents of a very maguffiny safe. I still can’t quite work out whether this is clever storytelling or whether the film-makers couldn’t edit the strands together properly. Once the protagonists and storylines are united the story pootles along in linear fashion to its reasonably satisfying but not terrifically interesting (but more blood-spattered than you might expect) conclusion.

    Imagine a very low-budget British attempt to replicate the spirit of early Coen Brothers films and you’re sort of halfway to imagining WEEKEND RETREAT. There’s also a hint – and only a hint – of Ealing-style black comedy (Ealing films could be a lot more disturbing than people sometimes remember). It also (and I suppose this is quite a feat in its on way) attempts to marry Tarantino gangster-chit-chat with Michael Frayn level plotting whilst stylistically recalling the sitcoms of the 1980s (the burglars are like Del-Boy and Rodney rejects, the setting is all a bit Home Sweet Home somehow). And for a small-scale and unassuming film, there’s also something weirdly ambitious about it. The business between the burglar brothers feels like a potentially great story on its own, and the married couple with problems storyline feels properly thought-through. I hesitate to compare it with BARTON FINK, but both films start off telling one story before taking a sharp turn, and both, to some extent, succeed. It doesn’t fully come off, but the film tries to do several different things, and although it falls flat on its face a lot you can see how, with a few script improvements and a bit more care taken over some of the acting, it could have been a quite clever and entertaining film. As it is it feels like a rough draft.

    But there are also basic storytelling errors. For example, early on, Hall and Coleman arrive and peer through the cottage’s letterbox – they can see that a small table has been overturned – in fact that’s the only thing visible. Instead of wondering if there’s something wrong, they just complain that no-one’s answering the door. When they do get in it takes Hall some time to spot the overturned table, which she then sets right without comment, as if overturned tables are common in cottages the length and breadth of the land. Surely it would have made more sense if the only thing that was disturbed was, for example, an ornament, possibly even something that the characters don’t notice, but which the camera (and the viewer) does.

    Another of the main problems is quite-well-known comedy character actor Dominic Coleman who plays it for obvious laughs. Elsewhere, the two actors playing the burglars aren’t really good enough, labouring both the attempts at comedy and pathos. Fortunately there’s under-used TV actress and (I guess former) BT mum Esther Hall to add a bit of reality to the situation. And then there’s official legend Dudley Sutton. It has to be said that he doesn’t exactly convince as a butler (or whatever he’s meant to be), but he’s fun and has fun.

    This is a debut feature made pretty much with no money by writer-director Brett Harvey, who has since gone on to make BROWN WILLY, a recent favourite on Britpic. WEEKEND RETREAT is quite promising if you’re feeling generous. The plotting is tight though some of the revelations may be a little unlikely (frankly Dominic Coleman is miscast as a lothario). The comedy is clumsy in execution though the actual gags themselves are fine. And at times it’s a bit simplistic: the film focuses on two pairs of people; in each pair there’s one sympathetic person and one poltroon. This leaves no room for manoeuvre – it feels like a film which has been meticulously plotted and no character development at the scripting stage was going to be allowed to alter anything. Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of good stuff going on. But the film falls between several stools. It can’t make its mind up about how serious it’s meant to be: there are slapstick moments, soapy dialogue, sentimental recollections, some would-be icky violence, but the film can’t synthesise then together. WEEKEND RETREAT is both too confident (in its flinging everything together and hoping for the best) and not confident enough (in it failing to find any focus). It’s an interesting, quite promising failure, one which might even be worth a remake one day.
    Matt Usher

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