Over the last six months of lockdown, it feels like I’ve watched and reviewed a stream of high quality, high emotion directorial debuts – and Nocturnal is just another title to add to that list.
We meet Pete (Cosmo Jarvis) a humble painter-decorator, working in middle class houses during the day and returning to his squat at night. He seems happy with his simple life, but current squeeze Suzanne (Amy Griffiths) is less so, upping and leaving within the first five minutes.
Pete apparently gets over their fling quite quickly, as he starts to loiter around a local school training field, having taken a liking to one of the teenage girls on the running team. Laurie (Lauren Coe) is new to the area, having moved recently with mum Jean (Sadie Frost). Picked on by her teammates, it’s clear Laurie can stand up for herself, but makes few friends in the process. Somewhat of a loner, she’s initially disturbed and then flattered by Pete’s interest in her, and the pair soon become friends.
Out on a ‘date’ one night, Pete starts to probe Laurie for more information about her life, asking about her parents. Laurie says that she’s happy with her mum, and that she’s never met her dad, that he’s a waste of space. Pete’s eyes start to fill as he attempts to jump to the missing man’s defence, but Laurie won’t hear it. The moment quickly passes, but there’s an unexplained tension in the air.
As things between Pete and Laurie appear to be going well, Pete pushes away any of Laurie’s romantic advances. One night, back at his flat Laurie comes onto Pete, just as Suzanne returns to collect some things. Disgusted by Pete’s ability to move on so fast, he attempts to explain to Suzanne that things aren’t what they seem. And they really, truly aren’t.
Written by Olivia Waring and Nathalie Biancheri, and directed by Biancheri, Nocturnal is a tense, emotional rollercoaster of a story and a strong feature-length debut by both women. We set off not warming to Pete – he’s a hard worker but aimless, and pushes away anyone who tries to get close. Laurie, while the typical sarcastic, opinionated teenager, is a determined student and athlete; we root for one over the other and are unsure how this ‘opposites attract’ couple will work. We pity Laurie as Pete tries to squash her interest in him – wasn’t it Pete who started all of this? And if he’s not into her as his girlfriend (albeit, his girlfriend with a 17 year age gap), what does he want?
Jarvis is stirling casting. Previously seen in Lady Macbeth and Peaky Blinders, he’s brilliant as the hardshelled Pete. Verging on creepy during the first act, our opinion of him soon changes as Jarvis’ eyes soften and he lets down his guard. He’s awkward and quiet but also charming and funny; we can see why Laurie likes him. Similarly, Coe as Laurie was a great choice. She’s confident, opinionated, rebellious, but also open and warm. Maybe they’re not so different afterall.
Shot in and around a Northern town, Nocturnal is true gritty British cinema; strong, immersive realism with dark undertones, Biancheri has done a fantastic job of letting the location become a character itself. Scenes shot at a local arcade, all bright neon lights and diegetic sound, partner with Pete and Laurie’s developing relationship; the cinematography reflects the hopes they both have for each other, a sense of childlike dreaming. All in all, it’s lovely to look at, and our main characters just add to it.
Nocturnal is a beautiful story about love (in all forms) and hope, told by two fine examples of British talent.