Tilda Swinton’s entrance in The Souvenir could serve as a costume test as Queen Elizabeth II in a yet-to-be-produced later season of The Crown, with silver hair, an artfully-patterned headscarf and a regal bearing. Though Swinton Senior has a palpable presence in director Joanna Hogg’s feature, the show belongs to her real-life daughter, who plays her onscreen offspring as well. Set in an appropriately-soundtracked 1980’s London, the picture stars Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie, a young film student from a well-to-do family (complete with a two-level flat in Knightsbridge and grocery shopping at Harrods). She’s warm, yet still somehow reticent, becoming noticeably vibrant when talking about the movie she wants to make. She meets Anthony (Tom Burke), a pinstripe-suited, slightly older man who speaks with a lethargic drawl, and who quickly insinuates himself into Julie’s life and bed.
Described as a trainee rotarian, straight-laced Julie is plagued by a self-manufactured sense of mediocrity. It’s not as though Anthony is seeking to exploit her imagined inadequacies, but this is what he does, however inadvertently and surreptitiously. Julie is an earnest and empathetic character, to the point of feeling almost inconsequential in her own story. And yet it becomes impossible not to mentally urge the young woman to make better decisions with Anthony, and it’s only then realised that Swinton Byrne’s performance and Hogg’s direction have stealthily established Julie as an incredibly sympathetic protagonist.
Loosely based on Hogg’s own early life, this feature doesn’t deviate from its path to the point that the conclusion quickly becomes foreshadowed. It’s a case of being about the journey and not the destination. Echoing the distorted and detached view of the world Julie glimpses in her camera, the film occasionally takes on a grainy effect that almost shimmers (either that or there was a problem with the projector at the Berlinale press screening). The Souvenir is a reflective and wise piece of modern British cinema.
The Souvenir does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.