UK / 23 minutes / color / Driver, Lighthouse, Stigma, BFI vt The Photographer Dir & Scr: Stephen Fingleton Pr: Matthew James Wilkinson Cine: Luke Bryant Cast: Liam Cunningham, Amy Wren, Richard Dormer, Ryan McParland, Jasmine Breinburg, Charlotte Lewington, River Hawkins, Matt Alexander Kaufman
A beautifully made short movie that generates a surprising amount of sympathy for its main protagonist, superbly played by Liam Cunningham, even though the character concerned is an exploitative creep. The movie was born out of the British Film Institute’s Lighthouse scheme, which funded a number of up-and-coming UK directorial talents, of whom Fingleton was one, to create short movies.
Elliot (Cunningham) is a divorced middle-aged man who, in his loneliness, is dedicated to taking “candid” photographs—“upskirts,” “downfronts,” and so on—of young women in the street, in the park, on the bus, in changing rooms, wherever, and posting these to the online forum he haunts, The Voyeur’s Den.
His teenage daughter Alexa (Wren) comes to visit for a few days before heading off to her first term at university. Relations between the two are a bit strained, partly since—although Alexa doesn’t tell Elliot this for a while—she’s just been dumped by boyfriend Richard.
Browsing through The Voyeur’s Den, Elliot comes across a series of pictures posted by a user called ANORAK of an unsuspecting “Teen Hottie” sunbathing in the local park. Predictably, the “portraits” are of Alexa.
Elliot is able to work out where the photos must have been taken from, and begins to stake the place out for ANORAK’S next field trip . . .
Elliot’s reaction is of course that of a normal dad: he’s enraged anyone should be treating his beloved daughter as a sex object to be “shared” online with other exploiters. And, equally of course, the reaction is complicated by the fact that this is exactly what Elliot himself has been doing to other people’s beloved daughters. In a way the discovery of the “Teen Hottie” pictures represents the opening of a door for him, the door that leads back to the world of normalcy.
But the door’s opening is just the start. Another stage of the remedial process occurs in a short scene that might seem almost extraneous. While waiting for ANORAK to turn up, Elliot meets one of Alexa’s friends, another attractive young woman, Trisha (Breinburg). She spots the camera and, with a smile, asks if he’d like to take a photo of her. It’s a statement, perhaps revelatory, that Elliot can if he chooses relate to young woman in a perfectly normal fashion, as people rather than as fetishistic objects, and that his photography doesn’t need to be a matter of sneaky, secret shame.
Another stage of his “cure” comes when he finally encounters ANORAK (McParland), who’s so cocksure online, and discovers what a sad sack the youth is—it’s all there bar the acne. Part of Elliot’s visceral fury surely arises from the realization that this is how the world sees the real him, Elliot: not as the respectable dad but as a pale-faced little wanker.
The final scene of the movie is (ambiguously) far less optimistic about Elliot’s future. He comes across Alexa sitting at the computer and, like someone probing a sore tooth with their tongue, watching a clip of ex-boyfriend Richard (Hawkins) dancing with his new love (Lewington). “Am I prettier than her?” asks Alexa, blatantly fishing. Elliot’s answer is the obvious one—he’s her dad, after all—but it’s clear he has eyes only for the young woman in the clip, and what’s revealed by her low neckline . . .
So it’s been not a cure, perhaps, but just a brief remission?
Cunningham’s quite amazing in this movie; he’s best known at the moment for his role as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones, but he’s had a long and distinguished career on both stage and screen, including a BAFTA shared with Michael Fassbender for their roles in John Maclean’s 2012 short Pitch Black Heist (the link won’t work until February 10 2020). Amy Wren, with whose work I wasn’t familiar before watching SLR, is likewise something of a revelation: she captures the prickly yet vulnerable Alexa to a T.
As I noted at the outset, this short is quite beautifully put together: all credit to Stephen Fingleton’s scripting and carefully measured direction (he also wrote the restrained but effective soundtrack) and to Luke Bryant’s cinematography. SLR was shortlisted for an Oscar and a couple of festival awards as well as winning as Best Irish Short at the 2013 Foyle Film Festival.