A remarkable phenomenon: in April 2005, two Scottish films opened in Australia in the space of three weeks. Notable, because it usually takes around five years for arthouses (in Australia and, I suspect, many other countries) to scoop up the small, notable films from places like Scotland that suffer the oblivion of being deemed culturally unfashionable.
Shona Auerbach's Dear Frankie is less assured and ambitious than David Mackenzie's Young Adam (2003) – the other Scottish film to grace Australian screens at the same time – but it is nonetheless a touching, intimate drama.
Lizzie (Emily Mortimer) has spent years running from her abusive husband, Davey (Cal Macaninch). She travels with her gruff, protective Mum, Nell (Mary Riggans), and Frankie (Jack McElhone), the intense child who is deaf as a result of his father's violence.
Lizzie has long elaborated a fiction in which Frankie receives letters from Davey. But this masquerade promises to come undone when Frankie learns that his father's ship is docking locally. Lizzie has no choice but to deepen the pretence with the aid of a good-looking, never-named stranger (Gerard Butler).
This sounds like the set-up for a standard romantic comedy. Surprisingly and pleasingly, Dear Frankie (as scripted by Andrea Gibb) chooses to explore the bittersweet implications of its material, rather than opting for a facile, sentimental whitewash.
Auerbach is her own cinematographer (a rare two-in-one combo duplicated by Steven Soderbergh in America), and here she brings to life the streets, regular haunts and beaches of the town setting.
Dramatically and stylistically it is a modest piece but, with the aid of a fine cast, it works as a thoughtful tearjerker.
© Adrian Martin April 2005