Albatross is so called because of the burdens each of its characters carries throughout the film. Set in a hotel in a sleepy south coast town it follows Emelia, a 17-year-old who is sassy, insubordinate and flirtatious, and the effect she has on the fractious family for whom she works as a cleaner. There’s the father, an author with one great novel to his name and not much else who sits up in the attic, unshaven and soft spoke. There’s his wife, a fierce failed actress who runs the family’s hotel almost single-handedly and loathes her husband’s lack of inspiration. They have two daughters: Posey, the delightfully insightful six year old daughter and Beth who is 17.
The contrast between Emelia and Beth is constantly highlighted. Beth is cramming for her A Levels and Oxford interviews; Emelia hangs out on the beach, drinking and setting off fireworks. Beth has never had an alcoholic drink; Emelia thinks nothing of flashing her breasts at a cashier to get a bottle of red.
Beth and her father fall for Emelia almost immediately. Beth doesn’t have other friends and is enchanted by this rebellious newcomer. The father is also entranced by Emelia but in other ways. With laughable ease he allows himself to be enticed and ensnared by Emelia, offering to “teach” her creative writing and ending up having sex with her in the toilet at his younger daughter’s birthday party. There are unpleasant moments as we see the father lose his special relationship with his daughter through his obsession with her best friend.
What makes Emelia likable is the genuine vulnerability behind her. It would have been easy and annoying to have her stride through the film, a whirlwind of snappy putdowns and voluptuous stares but she has a childish weakness that slowly reveals itself as the film progresses. Her constant insistence on her descent from Conan Doyle (which, given the film is called Albatross, I thought would have been Coleridge), the tragedy of her mother’s suicide and her relationship with her grandparents reveal that at heart she is still just a child, as unsure as Beth and as friendless until their meeting.
There are some predictable scenes: Beth’s first smoke, pompous applicants at Oxford University perturbed by Emelia’s freewheeling attitude but also some genuinely moving and amusing scenes and the film doesn’t allow itself a neat happy ending, merely hinting at its possibility. One to see, but not to treasure.