Set in a small village outside Doncaster, Pond Life, directed by Bill Buckhurst, follows the lives of a group of children and teenagers as they attempt to catch a carp fish that’s been spotted in the local pond. It’s 1994 and the village is still recovering from the economic hardship that came with mine closures, leaving the children to navigate their own problems and struggle to figure out their place in an ever-changing, but seemingly stagnant world.
Through a simple plot-line, the film not only tackles challenging themes but beautifully encapsulates the feelings of heartbreak and unrequited love, innocence and childhood imagination, and most importantly hope and the power of friendship. In many ways, it’s a stark reflection of how communities became fractured from mining closures, and how just as the children learn to move on from the fish, the adults are forced to move on from their hardships.
Whilst dealing with problems of his own, Trevor (Tom Varey) a young man in his twenties, acts as both a father figure and older brother for a group of young people. Notably, he helps Pogo (Esme Creed-Miles) a young girl with special needs, to find peace and a sense of security by taking her on fishing trips. In their mission to catch the biggest fish their pond has ever seen, you feel as though the pond and the beauty held within it, holds the hopes and dreams of each child. It seems unobtainable and an illusion, but their determination and in many ways imagination make the catch of a lifetime feel possible.
Pogo is by far the most captivating character, and Esme Creed-Miles could not have been better cast. She delivers a breathtaking performance, balancing her character’s innocence and creative vision with her darker moments, as she struggles to accept and understand herself after being called a ‘monkey nut’ by younger children. Trevor’s undying patience to help her and the love and friendship that grows between them is a refreshingly positive portrayal of mental health and special needs in children.
Both starting and ending with the song ‘Love is all Around’ the film immediately draws you in with a sense of familiarity almost everyone can derive from the song. Its lyrics perfectly reflect the underlying feeling of love between many of the characters, and the hope which they find in each other (whether it be their love for each other, romantic love, love for a parent, or love found in Jesus). At the end of the day, Pogo shows her friends that a sense of humanity is more valuable than any ambition or dream -a beautiful sentiment.
Just as the setting is both tranquil and stunning, hiding a realm of unknowns underneath it, so is the village. Underlying all of the characters are secrets about some of the families in the town, and as they become revealed not only do many of the characters make more sense, but the innocent love affair between Cassie and Maurice is broken down. At times it feels like an ode to childhood in the days before technology, when children would run free in the natural world that surrounded them and use their imaginations for entertainment and it draws upon the viewers own nostalgia of childhood and brings a warmth to the characters. Through subtle references to the underlying secrets of the village, and of each character, the writing keeps you intrigued. The slow pace brings a magical quality, and you feel the same sense of the hope and enchantment that Pogo feels in relation to her summer.
I may have repeated the word beautiful many times already, but there truly is no better word to capture Pond Life. It has moments of darkness and intense sadness, but the love and gentleness with which the writer and director treat their characters is stunning to watch.