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Even without looking at the credits, it’s easy to surmise that this was originally a stage play, given the small ensemble cast, limited use of locations, knowing use of repetition and gotcha plot twist. Lo and behold, this film is indeed based on the play of the same name, written 11 years ago by Fiona Evans. It started on the Edinburgh fringe before transferring to the Royal Court. While the writer-director Barnaby Southcombe (I, Anna) has changed the original two-act structure, the core idea of the story hasn’t aged well in the intervening years. Being translated to film has in some ways made the inherent problems, like the prurience of the premise, worse not better.
The film presents two stories of two couples engaged in illicit trysts, and this all happens within the same grand hotel in the northern seaside town of the title. In both stories, a teacher is having sex with a teenage student. However, in one storyline the kid is a girl, Beth (Jessica Barden, from The End of the F***ing World, and actually 27 in real life), copulating with her art teacher Aidan (Edward Hogg); in the second, the pupil is a boy, Daz (Jordan Boger, from Peaky Blinders, also in his 20s), coupling with a female teacher, Liz (Jodhi May, who should have had better breaks by now, considering her talent).
With dialogue and plot devices repeated across both stories, the parallelism is presumably meant to make you think about how differently we react to the sexual exploitation of a boy versus a girl. Although, even that intended contrast feels dated and naive, and both the adults come across as selfish abusers, even if they do have their own, supposedly mitigating backstories. Moreover, the twist revealed in the last 10 minutes further undermines any empathy or understanding we might have had, turning this into some kind of perverse morality tale of cruel, over-ironic fate.
Nevertheless, the performances are strong and full of passionate conviction, which somewhat moderates the problematic aspects, while the use of natural light and tacky seaside textures does succeed in generating some atmosphere.
• Scarborough is released in the UK on 6 September.
Source: The Guardian
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