New Films: Stella Does Tricks (18)

Director: Coky Giedroyc Starring: Kelly Macdonald, James Bolam, Hans Matheson, Ewan Stewart

Am I alone in thinking that there has always been something ever so slightly sinister and unctuous about James Bolam? He approaches his role as an avuncular pimp in the gloomy new British film Stella Does Tricks as a cross between Michael Caine in Mona Lisa, Alan Alda in Crimes and Misdemeanours and Robert Mitchum in The Night of the Hunter. He oozes ugliness; after his scenes, you feel like scrubbing yourself clean.

The film follows the efforts of his favourite girl, the teenage Glaswegian Stella (Kelly Macdonald), to escape his clutches. It looks like she's made it when she hitches up with a fidgety young Jack-the-lad, played with feline grace by Hans Matheson, only to discover that he has problems of his own, and soon Stella finds herself back in the rut of misery and self-loathing that began with the child abuse hinted at in the film's flashbacks.

The director, Coky Giedroyc, has a steady control of her cast, and the three central performances are lovingly detailed. The film's flaws are in AL Kennedy's patchwork screenplay, which throws together superfluous fantasy sequences and gritty realism without regard for coherence.

There's no sense of character or focus in the conception of Stella either - it's left to the vibrant Macdonald to convey the life pulsing inside this armour-plated survivor. But the picture has its compulsive moments, notably the taut exchanges between Bolam and Macdonald, and one scene highlighting a novel, if unhygienic, new use for a Fisherman's Friend.

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