Black Mountain Poets (2015)

Black Mountain Poets

Comically skewering creative pretensions, Jamie Adams’ Welsh romp Black Mountain Poets is sharply observed and very funny.

A Field In Wales

by Alexa Dalby

Black Mountain Poets

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Alice Lowe (heading for even greater acclaim after Sightseers) and comic actress Dolly Wells are haphazard sisters Claire and Lisa, first seen here in an unexplained and failed attempt to steal a JCB. On the run from the police, they opportunistically ‘borrow’ an unlocked car belonging to the Wilding Sisters, acclaimed experimental performance poets, who are on their way to be guests at a poetry retreat. Finding the invitation in the car, on impulse, the sisters decide to go there and pass themselves off as the Wildings. The retreat, in Wales’ damp Black Mountains – beautifully shot in autumnal russets and greens by cinematographer Ryan Eddleston – turns out to be a handful of enthusiasts under a tiny gazebo outside a remote and isolated cottage. It’s a new and bizarre world to Claire and Lisa, and they feel like talentless outsiders.

With all the dialogue improvised, huge credit must go to the quickfire wit and one-liners of Lowe and Wells and their symbiotic chemistry as the insecure, unpoetic but jokey imposters. The rest of the cast of amateur poets are equally spot on – especially Tom Cullen (Weekend) as Richard, the shy object of their competing affections, Rosa Robson as his more successful and soon-to-be-ex girlfriend Louise, and Richard Elis as Gareth, the starstruck organiser, overwhelmed by the appearance of the supposed Wilding Sisters and fretting with 21st century angst because the kitchen doesn’t have even a basic milk frother or organic rice cakes.

Day two of the retreat is a night spent by the group camping up the mountain to seek poetic inspiration from nature, and it’s as uncomfortable, embarrassing and basic as camping in Britain is usually portrayed. Claire and Lisa continually have to avoid writing or performing poety otherwise they would blow their cover as the Wilding Sisters. A comic high spot as a result is Alice Lowe impressing the group by reciting a Tesco’s receipt as if it was experimental poetry.

Black Mountain Poets is the final part of Welsh director Jamie Adams’ ‘modern romance’ trilogy, following Benny & Jolene and A Wonderful Christmas Time. Shot with a minimal budget in five days, the handheld cameras and natural light give it a naturalistic documentary feel, but with all the quirks and subtle absurdities heightened. Though pretensions are ridiculed, it’s done affectionately. The title references America’s Black Mountain poets, a group of mid-20th century avant-garde or postmodern poets in North Carolina.

Black Mountain Poets is released on 1st April 2016 in the UK

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