After experiencing the tumultuous emotions of Beast, it’s hard to believe this is writer-director Michael Pearce‘s debut feature film. If this is anything to go by, I can’t wait to see what else Pearce is capable of.
Jessie Buckley (Taboo, War & Peace) plays Moll, a shy, sheltered woman living a lonely life on the island of Jersey. Assigned to keep watch over her disabled father, Moll spends most of her time alone, or at least under the hawk-like gaze of her overbearing mother, Hilary (played by the formidable Geraldine James). After escaping her own birthday party for a night of drinking in a tacky seaside club, Moll meets Pascal (Johnny Flynn), a local labourer who takes to her immediately, much to the displeasure of Hilary.
As Moll and Pascal’s relationship deepens, so do the rumours around the island that he has something to do with the recent disappearance of a teenage girl. When her body is uncovered, he is the favourite suspect, and Moll’s friends and family will do and say anything to get her to break things off with him. However, as Moll’s life starts to unravel, it seems that not everything about her was so neatly tied up to begin with.
Having proved herself in historical TV dramas and adaptations, you’d be wrong in thinking Buckley has little else to give. From the start she is our focus, and you’ll find it hard to break your eyes away from her when she’s on screen. Moll is quiet, a little sad, living under the thumb of her mother – but there’s something there below the surface, bubbling away. We feel like we’re on her side, willing her to escape. We’re excited for her new start with Pascal, the much-needed two fingers up at her family, with their twee middle-class living rooms and fancy function dinners. She’s finally free – isn’t she?
Flynn’s Pascal is everything the residents of the island hate, particularly Hilary. Unkempt, dirty, skin tanned from working outside, he’s rough compared to Moll’s clean, pale smooth. He’s a reclusive outsider, not to be trusted, with a questionable past. But he’s charming and cheeky, and pours attention on Moll like nobody else has ever done before; she’s hooked. The chemistry between the pair is undeniable, burning off the screen, so incredibly palpable. Given glimpses into the different aspects of their relationship, from their reserved beginning to their silly play-fights, drunken dancing, and more intimate moments, we can see just how besotted they are. But is that enough to save them from themselves and each other?
Described by some as an adult fairy-tale, Beast is a twisted tale of star-crossed lovers, with our Romeo and Juliet falling into and out of control throughout. Beautifully told, it’s a story of letting the past haunt the present, gripping you from the start, and its erratic, startling ending will leave your heart thumping out of your chest. Buckley’s powerhouse of a performance is partnered with Flynn’s understated sweetness, but when they come to blows we’re left to watch the dangerous consequences play out.
Beast is an unpredictable thrill. Don’t let it pass you by.