For a film-maker, Richard Jobson has an odd CV – a member of the new wave band The Skids (hit single: Into the Valley), a model, performance poet, actor, TV and radio presenter, Jobson arrived as a director with his partly autobiographical debut, 2003’s 16 Years of Alcohol, about growing up in a violent gang in Scotland.
A Woman in Winter, his third feature, is also set in Scotland, but draws heavily on that country’s long alliance with France (anything but the English, eh) in its story of a quantum physicist (Jamie Sives) falling for a mysterious French woman (Julie Gayet) and simultaneously finding the parallel universes his theories have predicted.
What we have here, you might suggest, is a metaphor for love as something out of this world, perhaps? More than that. With his story of two people who seem to leave the concrete world behind in favour of an increasingly dreamy one, Jobson seems in one film to be taking on the entirety of British film-making. He turns A Woman in Winter into a one-man plea for the Brits to abandon the sort of genre movies that Hollywood does better on bigger budgets, and also the period “bonnet” dramas, and instead turn more towards the French arthouse movie of character-driven chamber pieces.
That surely is the thinking behind the moody script full of non-sequiturs and Jobson’s pretty cutaways to starscapes. It’s also surely behind his decision to film Edinburgh as a distinctly European modern city – this is no “red telephone” heritage production. The influences seem more eclectic, however, with the more space-flavoured moments seemingly influenced by Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Darren Aronofsky’s doomy Pi also seems to be in there too, the way that the story seems to hover between here and there, and threatens at any moment to become an out-and-out horror story.
A work of modern gothic. Jason Flemyng, Susan Lynch and Brian Cox help anchor it in the milieu of the professional production, but at its worst, and it has more than a few art-student moments, A Woman in Winter comes down with a bad case of film-itis: a condition in which a director exhibits the desire to be a director rather than get his hands dirty and direct a film. But perhaps this is more a case of a man’s reach exceeding his grasp – at its best this never-boring film is a love story set to a poetic beat, a “two people talking” movie in the tradition of Linklater’s Before Sunset/Sunrise. We need more of them.
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© Steve Morrissey 2006