Like a clip from Children in Need or a more harrowing version of a John Lewis Christmas advert, Matchstick Girl (a modern adaptation of the Hans Christian Anderson story), a short film directed by Joann Randles, is swimming in emotive visuals, evocative music and a vulnerable protagonist.
Set on the snow-strewn streets of Manchester, a homeless girl (Joely Mae Greally) wanders the town looking for warmth - whether from a loving family or wrapping up in layers of winter clothing. As the story builds to a hauntingly inevitable climax, the isolation that this Matchstick Girl feels is overwhelming, lying on a cardboard box in an alley with only the vision of a loved one to keep her company.
Randles (who also wrote and produced this short film) chooses to finish her film with a quote from The Children’s Society about the huge amount of children who runaway from home in the UK every year - one every 5 minutes. With such a heavy cause as the foundation, the tone was always going to be tender. And indeed, the earlier likenesses mentioned in this review certainly come to mind when watching, especially with such minimal dialogue which lets the brutal visuals do the talking.
Given the budget for this film was only £400, there is a lushness to the cinematography which will compel and move most viewers. Each frame is deep in emotion and rich in connotation, so that whilst heartstrings will be yanked like a Christmas cracker, there is also an intelligence behind the filmmaking that will give the audience plenty to take away and mull over.
There is a slightly irksome use of society’s aggression towards homeless people that comes out from a few of the nameless strangers whom our Matchstick Girl literally bumps into. At one point a small girl yells at her “What are you looking at?”, which came across as an overreaction and unusual for a girl of that age. Perhaps the point of these moments was to reveal the general public’s hateful attitude towards the homeless, but the real terror comes from apathy - not aggression. As this girl wanders the streets, or sits on a bench surrounded by the milling crowds, there is no one looking for her! All these eyes fail to see her suffering and situation, which is the most poignant revelation.
Randles offers up some harrowing and effective filmmaking and spectacular use of visual storytelling, whilst setting a wholly evocative mood within seconds of the short film starting. Overall, the lead performance is subtle and unobtrusive, perfect for the tone of the story, which carries the viewer from a firm start to a moving, if predictable, end.