Directed by Serena Chloe Gardner
Starring Peter Warnock, Jemma Lewis, Evelyn Lockley
Short Film Review by Evie Brudenall
Whilst similar in their titles, Lady in the Park is most definitely not to be confused with 2015’s The Lady in the Van starring Dame Maggie Smith. The latter uplifted spirits and warmed the heart of the audience, but Lady in the Park in no way registers the aforementioned sentiments on its radar.
In Birmingham, 1963, Alex Wilson (Peter Warnock) earns a living as a café owner at a railway station. However, business isn’t booming and as a result, his finances are in an increasingly dire state. As the financial strain begins to reflect in his home life, Alex’s world descends into desperation and he risks losing his beloved family.
From the moment Alex is introduced, he is clearly positioned as our empathetic protagonist; he is well liked and respected by the café’s patrons and his staff, and despite his best efforts, the takings for the day are underwhelming. Upon his return home, he is lovingly greeted by his two darling daughters but his wife, Gail (Jemma Lewis), grants a frostier reception. She laments his lack of income and in her most spoilt manner bemoans, “What kind of man can’t provide for his wife?!”. Alex Wilson most certainly has our sympathies, but it’s achieved without a sliver of subtlety on the writer’s behalf.
During the married couple’s heated argument, the score that accompanies the back-and forth is extremely melodramatic and almost creates a farce out of the very stern and humourless story. The performances from lead actors Warnock and Lewis unfortunately exacerbate the heightened overripe narrative with their pained expressions and wooden delivery, although they find no salvation in the script. Contrived with predictable and overwrought dialogue, Lady in the Park does its actors a great disservice – the story moves so quickly that they can scarcely match its pace and the audience is left eating the dust in their wake.
The colour grading and filmic quality of the short is excellent, and the crisp and clear images denote the thought and level of professionalism that was put into Lady in the Park. This attitude is also reflected in the set dressing and use of locations, but Wilson’s café screams “set design” and therefore prevents complete audience immersion and causes a jarring disconnect – even though Wilson’s life is falling apart, the visuals and world-building created by the filmmakers are so intricately and neatly put together. As a result, it feels like we’re experiencing the lead character’s money troubles through the lens of rose-tinted glasses.
Although fathomed with earnest intentions, the confluence of stereotypical characterisation, unoriginal dialogue and exaggerated drama culminate in a forgetful tale without an ounce of nuance.