Home > Reviews > IN MY FATHER’S DEN – Simon Boswell

IN MY FATHER’S DEN – Simon Boswell

inmyfathersdenOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

A searing, dramatically potent, quietly devastating film from New Zealand, In My Father’s Den is the debut feature by writer-director Brad McGann. Based on a novel by Maurice Gee, the film explores the tragic events that befall a small South Island community when one of its long-lost sons returns home. Paul Prior (Matthew McFadyen) is a celebrated but world-weary war photographer who, following the death of his father, returns to his childhood home to seek reconciliation with his brother Andrew (Colin Moy) and sister-in-law Penny (Miranda Otto) and sort out their estate. While exploring in the old house, Paul stumbles across a long forgotten escape: the den of the title, where he and his father once shared their love of life and literature, and where he and his old girlfriend Jax (Jodie Rimmer) explored teenage passions.

Despite virtually no-one knowing of the den’s existence, Paul discovers that it is now being used by 16-year old Celia (Emily Barclay) – Jax’s daughter – a similarly disenfranchised youth who longs to escape her rural life and experience the world. Seeing in Celia a kindred spirit, Paul and the girl strike up an unlikely friendship, much to the displeasure of Andrew, Jax, and the wider community, who see an inappropriateness in their relationship that does not exist. However, when Celia goes missing, fingers begin pointing at an increasingly unpredictable Paul, initiating a chain of events which causes long-buried family secrets to re-emerge.

In My Father’s Den is a quiet, slow moving, but emotionally shattering experience built around two staggeringly good lead performances by English actor Matthew McFadyen and young Emily Barclay, both of whom are compelling and wholly believable as the jaded world traveller and eager young idealist who strike up an unlikely friendship. To reveal any of the details of the plot twists and turns would do the film a disservice, suffice to say that the emotionally charged finale brings to light a number of devastating revelations which bring the rest of the film into focus.

McGann’s screenplay is as competent and intelligent as his direction, and Moy, Otto (in a small but important role), and young Jimmy Keen are solid in support of the leads, while Stuart Dryburgh’s naturalistic cinematography makes striking use of New Zealand’s vivid landscape.

One other marvellous thing about In My Father’s Den is that it sees the return to the big screen of Simon Boswell, one of Britain’s most under-utilised and under-valued film composers. Having not scored a major international film since A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1999, and having only worked on a number of smaller-scale British and television projects, Boswell’s name has dipped beneath the film music radar of late. Although In My Father’s Den is unlikely to initiate his re-emergence as a truly international talent, it more than illustrates why he should be better-known and more frequently employed than he seems to be.

Written mainly for synths with occasional live instrumental performances, Boswell’s score is as quiet and intimate as the film itself, underscoring the unfolding layers of family tragedy with a great deal of subtlety and restraint. Xylophones, marimbas and sampled solo violins add the human element to Boswell’s soothing electronic tones; while not containing a strong theme, the brief melodic lines and powerful recapitulations at key moments underline the drama without ramming the point home. The well-judged use of classical music, opera, and modern pop source music adds a moments of orchestral intensity and lyrical beauty to Boswell’s work. He often scores films like this – The War Zone, for example – and its obvious he’s very good at bringing out the drama in these kinds quiet films. It’s probably not a score which would make particularly interesting listening away from the film – hence the lack of an accompanying soundtrack – but in context it excels.

Rating: ****

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