“I lost my job because of the publicity.” One of the very first lines uttered by Chris Langham in Black Pond (2011) cannot help but call to mind the actor’s own prosecution for a heinous crime and the massive impact it had on his life and career. The film, written and directed by newcomers Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe, stars Langham in his first role after being jailed for downloading child pornography but it deserves more than mere infamy.
Sharpe wrote, directed and starred in Flowers on Channel 4, one of this year's television highlights. In a sense, Black Pond feels like a prototype Flowers with its arresting visual style, pitch-black humour and focus on a family so dysfunctional they make Wes Anderson’s Tenenbaum clan look like the Waltons.
The film works as mockumentary, thriller, black comedy and drama. It concerns an ordinary British family and their friend accused of murder when a man dies under their roof. Langham plays Tom Thompson, the patriarch, with the kind of downbeat, droll weariness he perfected in TV shows like The Thick of It, Help and People Like Us.
Black Pond reportedly cost just £25,000 to make and yet the innovative direction lulls the audience into believing they are watching a film with a far greater budget. The cast is uniformly excellent, not least the family members played by Amanda Hadingue, Helen Cripps and Anna O’Grady. Colin Hurley, who went on to play a major role in Flowers, is outstanding as the lonely widower invited in by the Thompsons and whose demise is central to the plot. Simon Amstell, in his big-screen debut, provides some light relief as an unqualified therapist whose methods largely involve mocking his patients. One suspects it wasn't a big stretch for the host of Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
Tonally the film is slightly uneven in places but it is still a remarkably assured debut from the pair of young filmmakers. The casting of Langham, understandably, caused a stir but there is plenty to enjoy here if one can accept that. With this and Flowers, there is a sense that Sharpe is still finding his voice and his masterpiece is yet to come; he might just prove a truly significant British auteur in the years to come.Reuse content