Director: Paul Holbrook
Writter: Laura Bayston
Steeped in shade, Old Windows centres on an encounter between two strangers.
We are in South East London, and cafe owner Kerrie (played by Laura Bayston) is saying goodbye to her last customer of the day. As Kerrie surveys an empty till, we can observe that the cafe has seen better days. The cafe’s history – West Ham kit in pride of place, photos and posters up on the walls – is decades old and virtually untouched. It is not immediately obvious when we are, and director Paul Holbrook’s use of sepia plays on this sense of being lost in time.
Kerrie turns on the radio, and as she clears up, begins to dance to The Searchers’ hit Needles and Pins. Despite the cafe being closed, an elderly man enters. Harry (played by Larry Lamb) is enigmatic, well-dressed, very much of the ‘old school’’ and exudes a formidable presence. He sits down, placing a leather holdall on the floor and waits to be served.
Startled by her new customer, Kerrie realises this is not someone who will come back tomorrow. Harry asks for a cup of tea and an Eccles cake. Kerrie serves him. He unsettles her as he begins to ask questions. Bayston, as the film’s screenwriter, ensures that the suspenseful impact of Old Windows is loaded in its delivery. Harry’s questions move from casual conversation, to the more personal, with his inflections becoming more like an interrogation. He is used to getting a response. We are immediately put on our guard.
Kerrie even remarks that he looks familiar – although Harry asserts he is just “passing through”. Through Harry’s questions, we get a picture of Kerrie’s life. The cafe was formerly owned by her late father. We also find out that her ex partner is in prison, and tragically her little boy (Lenny) has died, age 9.
Harry’s intentions are unclear, but Bayston’s dialogue conveys menace and dread. We imagine what might happen, the dark possibilities. However, a pivotal moment marks a change as Harry accidentally spills his cup of tea. He suddenly seems nervous, and the dynamic between the pair begins to shift.
Compressing a narrative into a short film brings challenges, and Bayston’s script answers this by creating lines of narrative that are deliberately left unresolved. In the final minutes of the film, we are left to piece together an intricate back-story of histories, debts and scores. Rather than coming to an abrupt end, the story continues to reverberate long after the credits have rolled.
Old Windows also benefits from a cast who know how to build atmosphere. Lamb’s extensive experience in television means he can sketch out a character quickly and effectively. With Holbrook’s camera inquisitively searching for clues in close-up, Lamb gives little away. The interaction between Lamb and Bayston is excellent with Bayston’s decision to lean into the ambiguity of the story really lifting the drama. This is film-making between the lines, and Old Windows – like its central character – succeeds by playing a subtle hand.
Old Windows will have its world premiere at the Manchester Film Festival in March.