The Scouting Book For Boys (2009)

Paradise Lost…

Although James Cameron’s mega-budget Hollywood behemoth Avatar has been dominating column inches over recent weeks, the rest of 2010 is shaping up to be a memorable one for films on this side of the Atlantic. With the likes of An Education and A Single Man dominating awards ceremonies, and films like Philip Ridley’s Heartless on the horizon, it’s easy to feel upbeat about the current state of British cinema. When something like The Scouting Book For Boys comes along, it’ also easy to feel inspired, excited and proud of our home-grown talent.

For most of us, a windswept caravan park in Norfolk would be a pretty miserable place to make a home, but not so for young teenagers David (Thomas Turgoose) and Emily (Holliday Grainger). Utterly inseparable, the pair find joy in the most mundane of situations; we first see them leaping across caravan roofs in the half-light of dawn. Their adolescent utopia is put under threat, however, when Emily’s dad announces she will be moving away, and – desperate to preserve their friendship – David agrees to help Emily go ‘missing’ in the caves near their home. But as the situation escalates, and Emily reveals her deepest secrets, David finds himself increasingly out of his depth…

A surprise highlight o the 2009 London Film Festival, Scouting is one of those films that seems to come out of nowhere and knocks you sideways. Jack Thorne’s excellent script challenges expectations from the outset; set within the insular world of the caravan park, the narrative is a compelling character study as sheen through Emily and David’s young, and often naive, eyes. Thrown together by their meagre circumstances – alcoholic and absentee parents are the least of their problems – the pair’s closeness is, in fact, the catalyst for the increasingly shocking events of the film.

True, the adults around them may not be so deeply developed – Rafe Spall as an older camp guard who turns Emily’s head, Stephen Mackintosh as a copper concerned with furthering his career – but they are intentionally bit players in this dark drama, as they are in the kids’ lives. Everyone involved is excellent, Turgoose and Grainger are perfect in their roles, demonstrating a mix of vulnerability and waning innocence as they stand on the cusp of adulthood, with a believable chemistry that fuels the narrative, while Mackintosh, Spall and Susan Lynch provide sterling support.

Young director Tom Harper and cinematographer Robbie Ryan do justice to Thorne’s exemplary script, capturing te capturing the childlike energy and spirit and the darker aspects of the plot with a naturalistic, low-key style that befits a story that’s small in scale but big in ideas. By the time this absolute gem of a film reaches its jaw-dropping denouement, you’ll want to watch it all over again.

5 stars

Read Our Exclusive Interview With Scouting Director Tom Harper

Stars Thomas Turgoose, Holliday Grianger
Director Tom Harper
Screenplay Jack Thorne
Certificate 15
Distributor Pathe
Running Time 1hr 33mins
Opens March 19

This review was originally published in movieScope #16, which also contains interviews with Scouting stars Thomas Turgoose and Holliday Grainger and is out now. You can also find more Scouting content, including an interview with DoP Robbie Ryan, in movieScope Issue #15, available from the movieScope website.