Friday 10 April 2015

Electricity: Agyness Deyn lights up a powerful drama about epilepsy and shattered familial bonds


Director: Bryn Higgins
Starring: Agyness Deyn, Lenora Crichlow, Paul Anderson
Running time: 96 mins

There are few things in life I have more contempt for than the fashion industry so found the idea of British ex-model Agyness Deyn embarking on an acting career about as plausible as Ian Duncan Smith suddenly becoming a member of Class War. I really must stop being so judgemental because Deyn is remarkable in this, a powerful but flawed drama dealing with her character’s chronic epilepsy and the search for her long-lost brother.

Lily (Deyn) – the product of a broken home, who was taken into care when young – travels from Teesside to London looking for her sibling, Mikey, after the death of their abusive mother. She has £20,000 to give him following the sale of their ma’s house but initially struggles in her quest after being ripped off by a homeless girl she befriends and physically attacked by Mikey’s ex-partner. Worst of all are the violent epileptic seizures she has on a regular basis which often leave her injured (Deyn spends most of the film covered in unflattering bruises and abrasions of one sort or another), confused, and relying on the kindness of strangers just to get home.

Lily’s condition – and her reluctance to get it properly treated – is far and away the most compelling element of the film and the team of director Bryn Higgins and cinematographer Si Bell capture the chaos and madness of her fits in a series of disturbing and surreal hallucinatory images. These sequences wouldn’t be half as vivid, though, without Deyn whose performance is raw, fearless and naked (often literally so). Winning football managers are fond of telling interviewers their hard-working players “left it all on the pitch” and that’s exactly what Deyn does here. She puts everything she has into these emotional and demanding moments, and it’s draining just watching her.

I often struggle to take physically beautiful actors and actresses seriously in certain roles. Brad Pitt, all Athena poster looks and glistening abs, as a hard-bitten tank commander in Fury? Nah. The head-spinningly voluptuous Christina Hendricks playing a dowdy housewife in God’s Pocket? Give me a break. Deyn’s strikingly gorgeous, too, but imbues her character with enough warmth and winning ebullience that you believe in her 110 per cent. It probably helps that the actress herself was born and bred in the north (albeit in the north-west not north-east) and worked in a fish and chip shop before she was discovered and her modelling career went stellar. She clearly knows more than a little of the life she is portraying here and it shows.

According to IMDB, her next role will be in Terence Davies’ Sunset Song, alongside Peter Mullan, and I for one can’t wait.

Despite its many wonders, Electricity isn’t perfect. At times it feels a bit old fashioned; anachronistic even. Rachel (Saffron Coomber), a homeless thief/drug-user Lily puts up in her hotel room for the night, is entirely unsympathetic, like something out of an EastEnders episode from a less enlightened time; while the depiction of London as a faceless, soulless metropolis waiting to feast on the souls of na├»ve out-of-towners has surely been done to death at this point.

Additionally, a couple of the supporting cast are little more than plot devices. I’m thinking particularly of Lenora Crichlow’s Mel, a posh lesbian who befriends Lily and gives her a place to stay in London. Mel’s complicated and likeable but they do nothing with her, failing even to write her out satisfactorily as the film glides quickly towards its denouement.

It’s a shame because writer Joe Fisher – adapting Ray Robinson’s original novel – does rather better with Paul Anderson’s character Barry (Lily’s other brother), who starts off as an irritating amalgam of northern male stereotypes but is fleshed out simply but significantly as the story unfolds.

Rating: WWW

Electricity is available now on VOD and DVD


WWWW = Wonderful
WWW = Worthwhile
WW = Watchable
W = Woeful

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