As two lovers meet and start an intense, doomed sexual relationship, Kieran Evans’ Kelly + Victor offers a charged portrait of two worlds colliding.
With Or Without You by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
There’s a stark contrast between the impressionistic images of sun-dappled leaves and grass swaying in the breeze that open the film and the grey Liverpool cityscapes, scrapyards and angular wind farms that surround its protagonists. The film cuts between the two to comment on the love affair between tiny, sharp-featured, almost child-like Kelly (Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Bright Star) and good-looking, easy-going Victor (Julian Morris, ER and 24). The countryside is a fantasy place where their affair might have followed a conventional path. The bleak city is reality.
The two meet in a crowded nightclub in a maelstrom of music and lights. The attraction is instant, they end up in her flat for a coke-fuelled night of sex and passion. With Kelly taking control, what happens is more intense than anything either of them have experienced before, especially Victor. It ends with Kelly carving their initials into Victor’s bloodied back as if she was leaving a lover’s message on a tree trunk.
Simultaneously compelled and appalled, Victor finds himself drawn into Kelly’s sadomasochism. Both are rootless, hard up and living drab lives, though Victor is the most grounded – he has a manual job at the docks, he also drives for some would-be drug-dealing friends, and he has a married sister and her family he visits, where he’s back in normal domestic life. Kelly, we learn later when she goes home to visit her mother, has tried to escape from a violent, abusive boyfriend – a relationship which has perhaps left her unable to relate in any other way. There’s a narrative detour where we see her earning some cash helping her dominatrix prostitute friend whip a wealthy banker client – perhaps a wish-fulfilling topical touch. In doing this she is acting a part, and she does it reluctantly and perfunctorily, but with Victor, in contrast, it’s for real.
Striving for normality after the rocket-powered way in which their relationship started, Victor takes Kelly on a date – a walk in the park and a visit to Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery, where they gaze at Victorian portraits of lovers and a sculpture, Death, the Door to Life that turns out to be prophetic comment on their own doomed relationship. The day ends with them dancing slowly together on a rooftop looking over the city, temporarily as tender as any young couple.
Victor tries to break away from a relationship that’s so extreme it frightens him, but he’s miserable without Kelly – she can’t let him go either – and a chance meeting brings him back together with her, wandering the night streets after being beaten up by her previous boyfriend. He takes her to A&E and their obsession with each other is rekindled. When he takes her home, they make love again, this time more passionately and violently than ever before. And this time, when Kelly does her usual near-strangulation ligature around Victor’s throat to intensify orgasm, it goes horribly and fatally wrong. The film cuts to the sunlit countryside we saw at the beginning, as Victor walks through the woods and away from us into the distance.
Seemingly unable to mentally process what has happened, Kelly does nothing. She wakes next morning to find Victor’s dead body still in the bed beside her. In her paralysing confusion of horror, despair and panic, she plays the mix tape he made for her – the track they danced to on the rooftop and sobs. Well-acted and creatively directed, Kelly + Victor is, its director says, what happens when two worlds collide. Whilst being essentially a challenging portrait of the twisted and tragic dynamics between two people, it’s also a film that is inextricably rooted in its location, Liverpool, and its place in random, contemporary coalition-era Britain.
Kelly + Victor is released on 20th September 2013 in the UK