For the first few minutes of Hallam Foe, I found myself wondering if this was the sequel to Billy Elliott, where I’d find out what happened next to the young ballet dancer. But it quickly became apparent that Hallam is a much more complicated character played by actor Jamie Bell, spying on neighbours from a tree house, zipping down from nowhere wearing animal skins to scare people, and with a strained relationship with his family.
I’ve previously remarked that a film’s investment in fancy closing credits is the sign of a confident money spinning production: Hallam Foe does fancy opening and closing titles!
As the film open’s, it’s the second anniversary of Hallam’s mother’s death; his father has since got together with his young PA. Hallam’s mother still dominates his life: he keeps an enormous poster of her image pinned up in the tree house, along with a stash of her possessions. Her absence overwhelms his ability to behave rationally. As the story progresses, there’s a slow reveal of more and more details about the circumstances of her death.
But has Hallam left it too late to reconnect with his family? To reconnect with realty? Has his attitude and actions fatally severed the ties?
After Hallam’s allegations and spying comes to a head, he too quits home, heading for Edinburgh where
the streets are paved with gold the roofs are tiled with slate. A climber at heart, he finds more room to sleep as a vagrant on the rooftops (reminiscent of the roof people in Richard Gwyn’s The Colour of a Dog Running Away).
From his rooftop vantage point, he notices a girl (Kate, played by Sophia Myles who starred as The Girl in the Fireplace in season two’s Doctor Who) who reminds him of his mother. He follows her to work, and talks himself into a job as a kitchen porter at the hotel. With an art for surveillance and picking locks, the hotel’s clock tower becomes his new tree house, and Kate fills the void in his heart (with complications on many levels).
Kate: Is there a love in your life?
Hallam: Yes. (pause)
She’s dead. (pause)
Would you like to meet her?
Kate: I love creepy guys.
Can he resolve his suspicions that there was foul play in the circumstances surrounding his mother’s death? Can he let go of his mother? Can be do ballet on the rooftops? Is the swan on the lake symbolic?
While your understanding of Hallam’s personality traits grows throughout the film, his actions become harder to justify, and his relationships become destructive.
You watched for hours
From slates and clock-towers
The lives you loathe.
But your life is others,
And lovers and mothers.
Breeze blows from rooftops to your destination.
Trapped in your imagination,
She’s all you can see.
Black love water you miss her,
Oh God how you miss her so.
Highland flown, a dandelion blown
Yes it’s time,
Hallam Foe’s a dark tale, set against the distinctive backdrop of Edinburgh’s stony architecture and rooftops. As you start to understand the characters, their lives become more and more uncomfortable to watch, with empathy replaced by fear and amazement. Worth a watch and a think (but note that the 18 certificate is justified).
Update - November 2007: the book is pretty good too.