Finney’s Ghost – Living Record Festival

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Director and Writer: David Fox

Somewhere between a ghost story and a love story, Finney’s Ghost carefully evades categorisation.

Showing as part of the Living Record Festival, Finney’s Ghost uses a combination of photography and film to tell Finney’s story. William Gabriel Finney is introduced to us, already deceased. A shadow in his former life, Finney (played by James Davis) was one of London’s homeless, living on the streets. Making the decision to take a swim in Regent’s Park on New Year’s Eve, his body is found the following morning.

Some time later, a suitcase of his belongings is delivered by the police to a local resident, Pearl Black (Eleanor Barr). The two were not close; Pearl remembers seeing Finney sat in doorways, chatting to him from time to time. The suitcase is bequeathed to her, with the instructions ‘to be opened on my death’.

At first, Pearl is not comfortable with this gift. She actively avoids it, skirts around what could be inside. She eventually opens it, and finds books, trinkets and photos. Lots and lots of photos. They are all in black and white; macabre, silly, thoughtful – a montage of moods, observations and memories. Trying to attach meaning to them is impossible, but as Pearl explores further she comes across photographs of herself.

These are fuzzy, surveillance snaps: Pearl leaving for work, coming home. These are from years before – Finney has been watching her for some time. As Pearl, Barr strikes a skilful balance between her character’s horror and fascination. There are even photos of Pearl in the office. How could Finney have got so close without being seen? It feels less like the actions of a stalker, and more like being followed by a ghost. Pearl searches for signs of Finney’s presence in the photos – there’s a suggestion here and there, but not much.

She reads quotes that Finney has transcribed, annotating his photos. Shakespeare, Karl Marx, William Blake’s philosophical treatise There is No Natural Religion. All jumbled up in Finney’s scrawling hand, Pearl begins to piece together what they might mean. As Pearl immerses herself in Finney’s world, the connections indicate something far more personal.

Featuring stunning footage of London from Tony Hall and Christopher Walker, Finney’s Ghost builds atmosphere by stealth. The film takes us from the minutiae of daily life into the forgotten areas of London as we explore Finney’s cerebral obsessions. We visit William Blake’s grave in Bunhill Fields. Underpinned by a masterly selection of original music from Ian Hill and Frances Knight, the film beautifully peels back the layers of the city, as Eleanor goes deeper into the contents of the suitcase.

The ambition of Finney’s Ghost outstrips its running time of 35 minutes, and there are points in the film where ideas are asking to be developed further. But what there is on screen really comes together, especially in the last few moments. This is a finely-tuned work with real impact. giving you much to think about, even if some of the pieces refuse to fit.

Available here until 22 February 2021

The Living Festival here runs from 17 January to 22 February 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Builds atmosphere by stealth

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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