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Hallam Foe

Nicola Mostyn finds Jamie ‘Billy Elliot’ Bell a little too appealing

Published on September 4th 2007.

Hallam Foe

The screening of Hallam Foe is preceded by a short courtesy of artist David Shrigley (who also drew the title credits) and yes, it is just as bonkers and disturbing as you’d expect from the Macclesfield-born artist - like Chris Morris let loose with a marker pen. It’s also a fitting introduction to a film which opens to show a teenage boy sporting eyeliner, drawing lipstick round his nipples, plonking a stuffed badger on his head and sliding down a rope from his treehouse to disturb a couple who are at it in the woods.

This is Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell), a seventeen year old living in the Scottish Highlands who, unable to overcome his mother’s apparent suicide and her rapid replacement in his father’s life by his icy stepmother Verity (Claire Forlani), has retreated from the world to spend his days spying on others and gazing at a huge picture of his dead mother.

So far, so a little more dysfunctional that your average teen but it soon gets worse for Hallam when his stepmother finds evidence of his voyeuristic snoopings and, in an erotically charged scene, demands that he leave the family home.

From here the action transfers from the soothing vistas of the countryside to the rainy streets of Edinburgh where Hallam takes to the rooftops, spies a young woman who looks uncannily like his mother and proceeds to work his way into her life.

There are blatant hints to Hitchcock in this film, directed by David Mackenzie (Young Adam) - from the heights Hallam scales to carry out his spying to the doppelganger who represents a lost love. But while in Vertigo the lookalike served only to fuel a destructive obsession, Hallam’s increasingly close relationship with Sophia is a catalyst for change which, while leading him to intensify his intimate scrutiny of other people’s lives, also challenges him to engage with the world instead of merely watching it.

It has been a long time since Billy Elliot and Bell shows his acting chops in a layered story which asks us to warm to a character who, on paper, is a disturbed and paranoid stalker who likes to wear his mother’s dresses. Amazingly, in Bell’s hands, the character becomes sympathetic, likeable and, frankly, disturbingly attractive. Well, I was attracted and disturbed, anyway: Is it wrong to fancy a teenage peeping tom? I found myself asking worriedly. Then, hang on, isn’t it even more heinous to fancy Billy Elliot? Urgh!

Moving swiftly on, Claire Forlaini is beautifully cast as Hallam’s cool, rapacious and eminently slappable stepmother while Kate Breck (Dr Who’s love interest Madame Du Pompadour) is a match for the complex role of Sophia, the mother-lookalike whose initially caring manner belies a woman whose emotional turmoil and sexual demons rival Hallam’s own. The soundtrack, by Domino Records, is also worthy of note.

If some films manage to look sweet on the surface but hide a bitter centre, Hallam Foe achieves the opposite. Just as Hallam should have been creepy but ends up being oddly charming, so Hallam Foe takes in suicide, voyeurism, sex, obsession and violence but manages to be, yes, dark, erotic and disquieting but also funny and hopeful.

While the cinematography feels gritty and grounded, the film is also fanciful. Embedded in what feels like a realistic world we are asked, non-the-less, to accept some rather unbelievable things. But the mix works. If this is a coming of age film then it conveys not what growing up is literally like for a teenage boy but more – with all the sex and death and conspiracy theories - what it must feel like: an intense and confused state where the bad things are magnified but the sense of possibility shines through just as strongly.

Hallam Foe is showing at Cornerhouse, Odeon Printworks and Cineworld, Parrs Wood

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