Singular debut feature from Irish film-maker Andrew Legge that’s like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice as written by HG Wells
By Donald Clarke
After 20 years of experimental but always entertaining short films about the shape of time and how we may recapture it, Andrew Legge stretches his singular aesthetic into an equally singular feature. Lola perhaps neglects its core personal story as it works hard on the filigree of outer decoration, but, careering home at a breathless 79 minutes, the film cannot be faulted for invention or originality. A cult awaits the Irish film-maker.
The film purports to be composed of footage found at a Sussex mansion inhabited, in the prewar years, by the amateur boffins Martha and Thomasina Hanbury (Stefani Martini and Emma Appleton). Their story suggests The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as written by HG Wells. Toiling in a Mitfordian clutter, they construct a device – dubbed Lola – that can capture radio broadcasts from the future.
Showing the right sort of taste for the protagonists of a science-fiction film, they fall for David Bowie’s music before that artist was even born. They also stan The Kinks and, in a moment that briefly recalls Danny Boyle’s very different Yesterday, introduce an excited world prematurely to (no, not Lola, though the reference is cute) You Really Got Me.
The Hanburys, serious-minded folks, end up devoting most of their time to helping out the Allied war effort with intelligence that beats even that coming via the Enigma machines. Here is where The Sorcerer’s Apprentice kicks in. In its second half the story veers into one of the more familiar byways of alternative history. Constructed with Neil Hannon, whose music effectively captures both familiar musical shapes and genres altered by the young scientists’ well-meaning temporal meddling, the alternative British pop nightmare is worthy of Ken Russell’s Tommy or Peter Watkins’s undervalued Privilege. Few English films have been quite so English. No properly Irish film has hitherto come close.
If there is a downside to the admirable urge to pack so much parallel history into such a small space, it is that the collage somewhat overpowers the women’s personal journey.
Working with vintage film cameras and period lenses, the cinematographer Oona Menges creates images that seem infused with rationed cigarette smoke. But Martha and Thomasina struggle to assert themselves over the assumed click and clank of mid-century projectors.
For all that, Lola seems likely to register with amenable audiences. Legge deserves a second crack at the soonest opportunity.