Occasionally hampered by one-dimensional characters, Agyness Deyn is the scintillating spark that convincingly encapsulates the defiance of life with epilepsy.
Bright Spark by Dave O’Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Director Bryn Higgins’ second feature film is a confident and tightly packaged British drama. Having cut his teeth for over 20 years in television, there is a palpable sense of assurance in Higgins’ direction. Not only is this assurance striking in the edit, visuals, sound design and score, it’s in the natural performances he ekes from his cast. Despite Higgins’ confident delivery however, Electricity is often let down by its one-dimensional and frankly unbelievable characters. While the film’s focus is firmly on Lily, the nuance and detail of her character frequently serves to inadvertently highlight the dearth of detail in the supporting cast. George Cukor once said, “Give me a good script, and I’ll be a hundred times better as a director”, and you can’t help but feel that despite Higgins’ sterling efforts, the source material is the trip switch that detracts from an otherwise intriguing film.
Having been thrown down the stairs by an abusive mother as a small child, Lily (Agyness Deyn) suffers with epilepsy. Working in the change booth of an arcade, her devil-may-care attitude to her condition often results in increasingly violent seizures as well as elaborate hallucinations. When her mother dies, Lily is forced to reconcile the fractured relationship with estranged brothers Mikey (Christian Cooke) and Barry (Paul Anderson). But while the scars of childhood have driven Mikey into isolation, Barry is an unsavoury and sleazy poker player. And when Barry proposes cutting Mikey out of their mother’s inheritance, Lily sets out to find her self-exiled sibling.
Opening with some of the fragmented imagery spliced throughout Lily’s seizure-addled mind, the imaginative aesthetic of Bryn Higgins’ film is established from the get-go. Electricity attempts to recreate the effects of epileptic seizures and hallucinations, and does so with aplomb. Shooting from a first person point-of-view in Lily’s pre and post seizure state, the subtle visual effects are married perfectly with Si Bell’s misty and dream-like cinematography. One scene of particular beauty features a hallucination that sees Lily writhing uncontrollably in a bed of sand as inverted ocean waves crash above her head on the ceiling. These hallucinations are interspersed throughout the film and lend an ethereal and off-kilter mood.
The story itself has a zip and economy to it, you rarely feel that there is a shred of excess fat on the bones of the film. Joe Fisher’s lean and economical script ensures that the low-key drama ticks along with sufficient impetus. However – without having read Ray Robinson’s novel on which the film is based – it’s then difficult to say whether the poor characterisation throughout is grounded in the book or the screenplay. Lily’s struggle is compelling, her journey intriguing enough to command your attention, but the clichéd papier-mâché supporting characters don’t ring true. Save for the fact that she is related to two of the characters, they may otherwise have been described as ‘poker player’ and ‘drug addict’ in the cast. Similarly, several of her interactions with other characters are so blatantly plot contrived, that Deyn’s naturalistic performance is at odds with what feels manufactured.
At times heartbreaking, Deyn’s portrayal of the defiant and utterly naive Lily is the rock that the rest of the film is cradled upon. Lily feels natural, familiar and relatable in every way a protagonist should be. It earnestly highlights the difficulty of modern life with epilepsy – be it navigating the London Underground or simply dating. It’s an exceedingly well-crafted film – with a beautiful score from John Lunn – that is unfortunately hampered by persistently weak characterisation. In a moment of medication-free clarity, Lily says “I want to flare, to blister, to blind”, and with Deyn’s blistering performance, she does just that.
Electricity is released on 12th December 2014 in the UK