Dir: Paul Morrison. UK. 2003. 106mins
A poignant, warm-spirited coming-of-age drama, Wondrous Oblivion represents a significant advance in the career of writer-director Paul Morrison. Oscar-nominated for his melodramatic Welsh language feature debut Solomon And Gaenor (1998), Morrison now reveals a much more assured touch in balancing personal dilemmas with wider social issues and history lessons. His story of a cricket mad youngster growing up in the narrow-minded England of the early 1960s is charming, original and beautifully crafted. It will require strong critical support and sympathetic handling to make an impact in a British market inclined to marginalise films that aren't blatant Johnny English-style crowd-pleasers. It could conceivably benefit from the Calendar Girls effect and reach an audience hungry for films with a human touch. Internationally, it has claimed a place as sophisticated family fare after winning the Golden Gryphon at last month's Giffoni Festival For Children And Young People and screens at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this weekend.
Returning to the themes of identity and belonging also explored in Solomon And Gaenor, Morrison has set his latest story in a loving but realistic recreation of England during the summer of 1960. Astutely cast throughout, it features an entirely believable performance from Sam Smith as the innocent, awkward, wondrously oblivious David Wiseman, a young Jewish boy in South London who is an enthusiastic but inept cricketer for his school team.
His luck changes when the neighbourhood's first black family move in next door. West Indian father Dennis Samuels (Lindo) builds a cricket practice net in the back garden and David is in seventh heaven. Soon, he has befriended the family and under the expert tuition of Dennis improves beyond all recognition. David's lonely, neglected mother Ruth (Woof) also takes a shine to Dennis but not everyone in the neighbourhood is so welcoming. David's father Victor (Townsend) receives threatening letters and David is given some life-changing lessons in the prejudices of little England.
Understated but effective in the points it makes, Wondrous Oblivion steers clear of the melodramatic and refuses to indulge in the kind of overt audience manipulation that would have made for a more conventional and less appealing film. Most members of the community come around to accept the Samuels family but there is no comforting sense that matters are entirely resolved. David doesn't make a match-winning score with his new skills but comes to learn that there are more important things in life than cricket, like friendship, loyalty and family.
The result is a very moral film that dares to be slightly old-fashioned in its thoughtfulness and understanding that the world is not necessarily a place of group hugs and happy endings. The ensemble cast serve the story with distinction. Woof may struggle a little with her Jewish accent but hits all the right emotional notes as the vulnerable mother whilst Delroy Lindo brings great presence and warmth to the role of generous family man Dennis.
Given the chance to show a less familiar side of his talent, he delivers the kind of unobtrusive performance where the actor doesn't seem to do very much but still conveys all the humanity and soul of his character. Less is more appears to have been the general guiding principle for a modest, memorable film that effortlessly touches the heart.
Prod cos: N1 Production, APT Films film, Kuhn & Co
Int'l sales: Pathe International
UK dist: Momentum Pictures
Exec prods: Michael Kuhn, Kevin Loader
Prod: Jonny Persey
Co-prod: Lesley Stewart
Cinematography: Nina Kellgren
Ed: David Freeman
Prod des: Eve Stewart
Music: Ilona Sekacz
Main cast: Delroy Lindo, Emily Woof, Stanley Townsend, Sam Smith