Martin Carr takes a look at Luke Seomore and Joseph Bull’s “Blood Cells” which was nominated for Best British Film and Best Performance in a British Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival…
This film is beautifully bleak in an unrelenting way. Charting a journey of redemption for Barry Ward’s Adam, as he makes his way south to see his estranged brother’s new baby. Writer-directors Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore, use this fully committed performance from Ward to sketch someone consumed by grief, guilt and self-abuse. Bringing a realism some may find too much.
Set on location in and around Wales and The North, Blood Cells has a gritty quality which intentionally leaves you feeling tarnished. Using minimal dialogue and improvisation, there is a disjointed unease here which makes it hard to watch. Bull and Seomore confront the audience with a character at odds with his family yet not completely without redemptive qualities. Adam should be the villain of this piece, yet Ward imbues him with a vulnerability which makes him difficult to hate.
As an allegorical title Cells plays on the adage that blood is thicker than water. But also inherent within that is the notion of genetics. Like father like son, Adam carries the weight of his father’s decision living in fear of making the same choice. Those he encounters along the way, be they Jimmy Akingbola’s Debo, Chloe Pirrie’s Lauren or Good Samaritan Hayley all have a darker side. Reminiscent of Leigh and Loach at their most brutal, Blood Cells has a lack of sheen which marks Ward, Bull and Seomore out as ones to watch. Bringing to mind a young David Thewlis, Ward and Hayley Squires share a moment of tenderness with nothing more than glances and varied breathing. That this hiatus is so savagely marred minutes later but delicately handled, illustrates the intelligence on show here.
Blood Cells is definitely not for everyone. If you like the work of Jimmy McGovern or Alan Bleasdale then this may be for you. Having said that, both these writers laced their social realism with thick veins of humour which is lacking here. Similar to Steve McQueen’s early work alongside Michael Fassbender in Hunger or Shame, Ward brings a powerful presence to Adam making him tangible. In terms of writing Bull and Seomore have taken the Hemingway way route of less is more.
Silences in Cells mean as much as any words spoken. Fractured relationships are apparent without a need for further exposition. An economy from both parties which smacks of workshopping. A method advocated by Mike Leigh which brings a reality essential to this type of film. Clearly these scenes were developed off camera and each participant brought their own history to work.
For the implementation and execution of Blood Cells I give them all credit, yet the film lives or dies with Ward. He carries, connects and brings together the errant strands of this dishevelled narrative. At once antagonist and pacifier, he is subtly paternal yet equally indifferent. Which is why this film works at all, as without him Blood Cells would be interminable and unforgivably dreary.
Blood Cells is released on DVD and VOD in the UK August 17.