THE SOUVENIR, UK, 2019. Starring Honor Swinton Byrne, Tom Burke, Tilda Swinton, Frankie Wilson, Hannah Ashby Ward, Barbara Pierson, James Dodds, Dick Fontaine, Steve Gough. Directed by Joanna Hogg. 120 minutes. Rated MA (Strong coarse language).
The souvenir is a British film aimed at the arthouse audience, certainly not aimed at the multiplex audience. And, response will certainly depend on mood and attention, some appreciation of the themes and performances, perhaps some impatience with the pace, and lack of empathy with some of the characters.
Writer-director, Joanna Hogg, has made several acclaimed arthouse features. This is a film about a young woman who has ambitions to write and direct films. She is Julie, played, in her first film although she appeared as a child with her mother in I Am Love. Her mother is Tilda Swinton who appears here in a pivotal role as Julie’s mother.
Julie has interviews with film boards, academic supervisors, mixes with fellow students, becomes involved with a young man, Anthony, who works in the Foreign Office. (These aspects of the synopsis may actually make The Souvenir more exciting and involving than it is.)
At times Julie is a dreamer, thinking of the central character of her film, from Sunderland in England’s north, quite different from her own rather comfortable London background. At times, she is more realistic in her interactions.
However, the central focus, apart from the making of the film, is on her relationship with Anthony. He is played by Tom Burke (who was persuasive as Cormorant Strike in the television versions of the detective thrillers by Robert K..Galbraith/ J.R.Rowling). Many in the audience will wonder at Julie’s falling in love with him but also her continuing to live with him, his ambiguous attitudes and activities, references to his Foreign Office work and his absences, his sometimes harsh behaviour towards her, his drug dependence.
So, this is a two-hour portrait of Julie, turning 25, trying to find her path in life, coming to terms with relationships, all in a very British setting.
And, as with the James Bond films and some of the superhero films, there is a final announcement at the end of the credits that The Souvenir 2 is coming. To be welcomed by fans – but, perhaps, rather ominous for others.
Universal Released October 10th.
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.