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2011 | 85 min | R



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Theatrical release date

 03 March, 2012
 14 October, 2011

Country of origin

 United States



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Albatross Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 29, 2012

There’s not much originality to the coming of age picture “Albatross,” covering similar dramatic terrain found in dozens of teen-centric scripts observing on the highs and lows of fractured adolescence. However, it’s a memorably acted piece with a breakout starring turn from Jessica Brown Findlay, perhaps best known for her stately work as Lady Sybil Crawley on the hit series “Downton Abbey.” While most audiences have grown comfortable seeing Findlay sustain a youthful dignity loosely clad in all manner of period garb, “Albatross” provides the young actress with an outlet to explore other, darker sides to her talent, matched well with a committed supporting cast who breathe needed life into a conventional story of personal growth.

Jonathan (Sebastian Koch) is a blocked novelist exploiting a best seller he wrote long ago to support a seaside hotel, run with disgruntled wife Joa (Julia Ormond) and daughters Beth (Felicity Jones) and Posy (Katie Overd). Joining the house as a maid is Emelia (Jessica Brown Findlay), a 17-year-old troublemaker who claims to be a descendant of Arthur Conan Doyle, immediately interesting Jonathan. Striking up a friendship with the clever but rowdy housekeeper, Beth finds Emelia’s influence altering her life choices on the eve of an impressive college career, frightening Joa. For Jonathan, Emelia’s presence in the house extracts sexual feelings the teen is willing to reciprocate, explored under the guise of creative writing lessons.

The screenplay by Tamzin Rafn carries a familiar structure of teen angst, disguised by bad behavior and common recklessness. Rafn seems to understand the formula of her work, attempting to push focus away from growing pains, taking more interest in the coastal setting of the story and the characters that populate it. As the central tornado of trouble, Emelia is an approachable figure of disturbance. Having lost her mother to suicide, the teen watches as her grandmother succumbs to dementia, clinging to her Arthur Conan Doyle legacy as a point of pride, offering her heritage up to those who doubt her potential. It’s a potent weapon and a fascinating subplot running through “Albatross,” with the authenticity of her connection to the illustrious creator of Sherlock Holmes forming a mystery of sorts, also utilized to tempt Jonathan into midlife crisis-tinged submission. Although she drinks, remains promiscuous and largely inappropriate (wearing a Slave Leia outfit to a children’s costume party), and is perfectly willing to entertain Jonathan’s advances, Rafn keeps the character human to the best of her ability, never tearing the girl into thin strips of hysteria to make obvious points of bad behavior. There are dimensions to Emelia that are welcome, but often rudely condensed by director Niall McCormick, who burns through the picture in 85 minutes, never lingering long enough on domestic tension or behavioral awareness.

In the central role (or titular role, depending on your perspective), Findlay is an essential burst of impetuous behavior, generating a credible vibration of disruption around the hotel. Boldly sexual (at least in comparison to the chaste Lady Sybil) and sassy, the actress infuses “Albatross” with the instability the feature is searching for, while retaining sensitivity about Emelia’s grim home life and need for an emotional outlet. It’s a marvelous performance supported well by Jones, who’s stuck with a thin role of eroding innocence. Perhaps a true sense of her character’s R-rated enlightenment was lost in the editing process. I also enjoyed Koch enormously, who makes Jonathan a genuinely conflicted corruptor, swept up by Emelia’s forwardness, though always faintly aware of his destructive decisions, perhaps as a passive-aggressive show of force to Joa, another character left unfinished by the end of the movie.

“Albatross” works its way to a showdown conclusion of confessions and clean breaks, avoiding a melodramatic sting by playing the resolution swiftly. I wish there was more motivation to care about these characters at the end of the story, as their internal struggles are only halfway realized and true aspirations are hopelessly clouded. Despite a diluted sense of personality, there are a few reasons to see the picture all the way to the end, chiefly Findlay, who delivers excitement and sympathy in an effortless manner, hopefully signaling great things to come from the actress.

Starring: Jessica Brown Findlay, Felicity Jones, Sebastian Koch, Julia Ormond, Josef Atlin
Director: Niall MacCormick

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