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TRANSILVANIA 2019

Review: Scarborough

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- The sophomore feature by British director Barnaby Southcombe is a constantly cross-cutting drama about teacher-pupil relationships

Review: Scarborough
Jessica Barden in Scarborough

Following the noir thriller I, Anna [+see also:
trailer
interview: Barnaby Southcombe
interview: Charlotte Rampling
film profile
]
Barnaby Southcombe has now delivered a film that tackles the slippery issue of romantic teacher-pupil relationships, while also probing whether the same story is perceived differently when the protagonists’ genders are reversed. An adaptation of Fiona Evans’ acclaimed play of the same name, Scarborough [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, which is competing for the main prize at the 18th edition of the Transilvania International Film Festival, follows two such teacher-pupil affairs over the course of three days.

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For its entire duration, the film cross-cuts between the love story involving male teacher Aiden (Edward Hogg) and his pupil Beth (Jessica Barden), an outgoing teenage girl, and that involving female teacher Liz (Jodhi May) and her male pupil Daz (Jordan Bolger). The two pairs never interact with one another, even when they find themselves staying at the same dilapidated Victorian hotel. As the similarities (same behaviour, same conversations, same problems) add up, it seems that what we are seeing is, in fact, the same relationship played out by different people. In Scarborough, the lovers go bowling, have sex, eat candy floss, watch some fireworks and discuss their relationships. The hand-held camera increases the feeling that we are intruding on the characters’ most intimate moments, but this is a sensation that the film’s parallel editing prevents from sinking in too deep. Southcombe’s decision to alternate between the scenes showing the two couples hints at the fact that the stories unfold simultaneously. This cross-cutting ultimately increases the impact of the surprise provided by the film’s twisted ending.

This pattern of mirroring finally seems to be broken when both Liz and Beth announce their pregnancies to their respective partners. Once abortion crops up as a possibility, the doubled-up story enters a more unpredictable and intricate phase. What captivates the viewer up until that point are the similarities between the more romantically reserved teachers, Aiden and Liz, and those between the uninhibited and reckless pupils Beth and Daz. Yet the announcement of the pregnancies brings forth a shift, and the audience is prompted to compare the reactions of the two women of different ages, as well as those of the men. The film thus unleashes a brand new volley of questions. Towards its denouement, Scarborough provides us with a plot twist that sheds new light on everything that we have previously seen. 

The film was produced by the UK’s Embargo Films together with Poisson Rouge Pictures, and Germany’s Global Screen is handling the world sales. Scarborough brought Barnaby Southcombe the Best Screenplay Award at the third edition of the Macau International Film Festival.

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