Year:  2021

Director:  Phillip Stevens

Rated:  MA

Release:  November 16, 2022

Distributor: Bulldog Film Distribution

Running time: 89 minutes

Worth: $14.00
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Emmet J Scanlan, Javed Khan, Hannah Douglas, Sebastian De Souza

… Scanlan and Douglas are brilliant.

Directed by Phillip Stevens and written by Laura Turner, Lapwing is a dark Tudor period thriller that not only marks their feature length debut but highlights how some things sadly never change when it comes to political attitudes towards immigrants, religious dogma and male violence towards women.

The year is 1555 and it has been 12 months since England enacted the Egyptian Act of 1554 to ensure that the supposedly ‘ungodly company’ of Egyptians living in the country ended. In an effort to ‘stop the boats’, those Egyptians caught trying to enter the country ‘illegally’, whether by sea or Scotland, face execution. For farmer and religious zealot David (Emmet J Scanlan), this is a perfect time to make some money. Leading a commune of fellow farmers, David offers to help Arif (Javed Khan) and his family escape the country by boat. For a hefty fee of course.

With Arif’s family forced to stay far away from the farmers while they wait for the boat that will help them flee, David continues to dominate those around him, including sister-in-law Patience (Hannah Douglas).

Patience is aphonic and struggles daily to tell people what she’s thinking. After being indecently proposed by her brother-in-law earlier in the film, there’s a heartbreaking moment of solace as Patience tearfully practices trying to say ‘shut up’. It’s at this vulnerable time that she meets Arif’s son, Rumi (Sebastian De Souza) and there’s an instant attraction.

This impromptu meeting is perhaps one of the few moments where joy can be found in both Patience’s life and the film itself.

Lapwing is a thoroughly bleak film and when David discovers Patience’s love for Arif, it only gets bleaker. Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale faced scrutiny about its use of sexual violence towards its protagonist. It’s possible that the same discussions could be applied here. There are several instances where David’s mistrust and attraction for Patience result in scenes of brutality, culminating in a protracted assault in the woods. Stevens’ camera is unflinching in its approach to these scenes, and he does not look away for the ease of the audience.

Do these moments further underscore the need for Patience to escape this hell hole on the Lincolnshire coast? Absolutely, how could they not. Does that mean they need to be in the film and that graphic? While it’s clear that the film wants to embolden Patience’s brutal decisions in the final act, Lapwing could still do that without trading in on trauma.

Putting that to one side, it does need to be said that both Scanlan and Douglas are brilliant in their respective roles. Douglas’ silent expressive performance reminds you of Tilda Swinton in A Bigger Splash. Meanwhile, Scanlan realistically portrays a man melting into a puddle of paranoia through his own greed and lust.

Turner’s screenplay must also be given its dues. She forgoes the usual linguistic trappings of period pieces by allowing her characters to speak in more or less modern vernacular. While some Tudor purists will grit their teeth, by doing so Lapwing further anchors itself to the premise that these acts of dominance on women and immigrants still happen today.

Overall, Lapwing is a mixed bag of the good and the problematic. It is absolutely worth 90 minutes of your time, but some viewers may want to know what they’re getting into first.