Best friends David (Turgoose) and Emily (Grainger) are teenage residents at the Norfolk caravan park where their parents work. They enjoying seemingly endless summers of carefree fun and possibilities until their idyll is shattered when Holly is told she must leave the camp to go and live with her father. Devastated, the pair concoct a plan and David helps Holly to run away. As the police and the local community begin a desperate search for the missing girl and the situation begins to spiral out of control, David is unable to handle the increasing web of secrets and lies – or come terms with the truth of his relationship with Emily.
This debut feature from director Harper is a curious beast. For the most part, it is wonderful. The story is compelling enough, albeit slightly confused and with some holes and the film demonstrates an enormous amount of potential from Harper. But the tonal shift in the final few scenes, while expected, is too jarring and doesn’t quite fit with what we know of the characters. Sadly, this prevents Scouting Book for Boys from being anything more than good.
So let’s concentrate on the good things. The two young stars give accomplished performances. David and Emily’s relationship has reached that difficult, in-between stage: not still children, not yet adults, the girl maturing faster than the boy. It is delicate, clumsy. There is a burgeoning sexual awareness. Turgoose is his usual naturalistic self (if you’re not finding his permanently confused schtick tiresome yet); Grainger is confident, witty and charming. Rafe Spall, who plays the park security guard Steve (who Emily has been seeing without David’s knowledge) is one of my favourite young British actors and while he lays on the East-Anglian accent a bit too thick, he is eminently watchable and, if anything, underused.Steven Mackintosh as Police Chief Kertzer is, as ever, solid. And it’s beautiful to look at, evoking the feeling of the mythical true British summer by the seaside - the ones we remember as children. The bleached colour scheme is reminiscent of old Truprint and SuperSnap holiday photos and gives the film a truly timeless – and very English – quality.
All of this does much to make up for the film’s main shortcoming: the story. There is enough here to keep us rooting for David and Emily, but this is mainly due to the charm of the performances from our stars. The reasons for Emily hiding in a cave on a beach are bit, if not necessarily flimsy, well, just didn’t make sense to me - but then perhaps that’s the point? We do stupid things when we are young. We think the world revolves around us and don’t consider others’ feelings. But I just didn’t quite buy it. There are also other avenues and sub-plots that aren’t explored fully – David planting a bloodied rag on Steve’s motorbike; Emily’s mother’s alcoholism; Emily’s relationship with her father. It’s these little things that take the sheen off this otherwise very polished debut.
EXTRAS ★ Deleted scenes, outtakes and the theatrical trailer.