The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael

  • Film
  • Drama
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It’s October, 2003. Robert Carmichael (Dan Spencer) is a GCSE pupil in a run-down south coast fishing town. A talented cellist but socially introverted, he hangs around with easygoing Ben (Charles Mnene) and bad seed Joe (Ryan Winsley), whose worse-seed cousin (Danny Dyer) is out on parole. As the invasion of Iraq rumbles along in the background, small town ennui develops into something much, much worse.

Mixing attempts at social realism, political comment, painterly composition and gross ultraviolence, ‘The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael’ is undeniably ambitious and attention-grabbing, but it’s also ham-fisted and facile. The fragmented narrative slowly pieces itself together, flitting from one character to another in lengthy, often static or slow-panning long and medi-um shots. Evidently calculated as an alienation effect, this approach serves the photography well – Angelopoulos’s longtime cinematographer Yorgos Arvanitis brings the same grey-green drear to Newhaven’s glowering scenery as to its drab interiors, whose tableaux of figures slumped before screens convey a certain theatrical claustrophobia – but it offers no purchase on characters described by the director as ‘cogs’ and left even more hollow by a flat cast and terribly tin-eared dialogue.

Clay has said his film has ‘no pretence at realism’, but nor does it have any real sense of drama or political resonance. The parallels suggested between state violence – the Iraq misadventure, the Second World War – and the two prolonged, viciously misogynistic assaults around which the film pivots are especially offensively trite. The resulting story has the feel of a media studies project like the one featured in the film and referred to in its production notes as ‘a stilted morality play’.

Release details

Rated: 18
Release date: Friday October 20 2006
Duration: 98 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Thomas Clay
Screenwriter: Thomas Clay, Joseph Lang
Cast: Danny Dyer
Ryan Winsley
Charles Mnene
Daniel Spencer
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