UK, 2006, 100 minutes, Colour.
Jennifer Ehle, Patrick Baladi, Amelia Warner, Arthur Duncan, Katie Ann Knight, Danny Huston, Trudy Styler, Mark Wells, Jemma Powell.
Directed by Dan Wilde.
Alpha Male works as a family drama, the story of a dysfunctional family, the influence of the now-dead father, the loving care of the mother and her decision to marry again – and the effect on her two children.
There are reports that the producers re-cut the film wanting to have a more popular appeal and that the director asked to have his name removed.
Part of the complexity, within the original screenplay or not, is that the film shifts within a variety of time periods, from the present when the 21st birthday party is being organised by the mother and the son, who has left home long since, is reluctant to return, to scenes when the father was alive, to scenes when the two children were coping with the aftermath of the father’s death and the mother was planning to marry a neighbour.
Jennifer Ehle brings her often serene screen presence to her role as the mother, making the children’s reaction to her less comprehensible. The son, Jack, is played as a little boy by Arthur Duncan, who is very effective in the role. Mark Wells portrays him as adult. Katie Knight is Elyssa as a young girl and Amelia Warner as an adult.
Patrick Baladi is agreeable as the man who wants to marry the mother, trying to be sympathetic to the children but rebuffed. There is also a complication with the mother’s sister, played by Trudy Styler, who has played an ambiguous role with the family, and concerned about the finances from the father’s will. Danny Huston plays the father who is a strong businessman but terminally ill and wanting to do the best for his family.
Very British in its style and tone, but interesting enough to watch.
1. British drama, family drama, death, grief, and anger?
2. The British estate, wealth, the, the grounds? The musical score?
3. The title, the purpose, the reference to the male characters?
4. The time structures: the preparation of the party, Jack’s refusal to come, his mother’s plea? This event as the framework for the memories? Alice’s? Jack’s, Elyssa’s? The insertion of the memories? The comments, throwing light from the past to the present?
5. Jim as a key character, as husband, father, work, wealth, phone calls, playing with his children, building the treehouse for Elyssa – and its later collapse and his appearance to her? His anger with Jack and his friend on the trampoline? His illness, in bed, dealing with his children, with Jack, urging him to be strong, not saying farewell to Elyssa? His sister’s presence, her grief? Elyssa seeing her kiss Jim? Her going into therapy, her drawings, walking out on the therapist? The apparition of her father, his words and their effects?
6. Jack, young, the pool, dealings with his mother, trying to protect her? Diving into the pool?
7. Jim’s death, the effect on Alice? Grief, inability to move? Wealth, the business, the lawyer, Alice signing the papers? Going to the meetings, the discussions, meeting Clive, the sharing, bond with him? Her wanting him to move in, the children, consulting them, Jack angry and saying she had made up her mind? Jack being rude to Clive, Clive coming to his room, Jack demanding an apology, in the kitchen? Jack telling Clive he was not needed or wanted? Clive staying?
8. Brede, Alice’s sister, helping, the embrace with Jim, staying, living in, Alice urging her to go, to get a job? The return for the party, the previous comments about money, Alice giving her the money and her refusal? Elyssa, confronting Brede and her walking away? Asking why she had come to the party?
9. The birthday party, 21, the preparations, the servants, Alice persuading Jack to come, his arrival, his girlfriend, his attitude, towards his mother, towards Clive, the tension at the dinner, the plan to go to China, with his girlfriend?
10. Clive, his son, the reaction to the child? Jack and his attitude? The cup of coffee? The baby wandering, bumped into the pool. Unnoticed, Jack diving into save him?
11. Alice not wanting Clive to give a speech, her speech, the toast, the fireworks?
12. Elyssa in the treehouse, Jack’s friend coming to the party, dancing with his girlfriend, the kiss and Elyssa witnessing it, falling from the treehouse, confronting them?
13. Jack, the meeting with the little boy, sitting on the lawn, the cup of coffee? Jack talking with his girlfriend, not going to China?