Despite this being a gripping tale of deprivation, neglect and abuse, Nick Moran’s second feature, based on the best selling memoirs of author Kevin Lewis, carries with it a charming air of innocence and an overriding message of hope.
The start of the film sees the young Kevin living in squalor and receiving regular beatings from his harassed mother (played with gusto by Natascha Mcelhone; bespectacled, fag-smoking and dressed permanently in a grubby dressing gown). When social services become involved, Kevin is placed with a succession of foster parents, all unable to cope with his turbulent behaviour. But after being returned to his chaotic home by a naive social worker, his plight is finally illuminated when he’s hospitalised by his drunken parents. When he’s taken in by homely couple Alan and Margaret (Fox and Field), he experiences for the first time genuine affection and encouragement in his talents. Soon he’s amassed enough confidence and ambition to leave school and try his hand at starting a business, but when Alan dies suddenly and Margaret moves abroad, Kevin finds himself struggling to stay afloat
It is when he’s at his lowest ebb that Kevin discovers the talent that is to be his liberator and which gives us the most powerful scene of the film, as he finds a pen and paper amid the ruins of his derelict childhood home and starts to construct a phoenix from the ashes to the sounds of Pachelbel’s Canon. Kevin is portrayed beautifully by both Augustus Prew and Rupert Friend as a quaint misfit; independent, refreshingly classless and always intriguing in his behaviour. Only when the credits roll and we see a clip of the writer in real life can we understand how great Friend’s performance is. Con O’Neill as Kevin’s broken father, Ioan Gruffudd as his well-intentioned teacher and Jodie Whitaker as the frustrated girlfriend all give worthy performances too.
I couldn’t help feeling that the way this story is told is truly British; for all our faults we do seem to find it easy to find humour in something so tragically grim. Would any other nation have let a horrifying real-life character such as Kevin’s Mother be played with such comic emphasis? This is no Precious; whilst there are depressing themes, there is lightness at every turn and ultimately this is a rags to (humble) riches, feel-good tale. One of the best British films of the year.