Reviewer: Helen Tope

Writers: Andrew Legge and Angeli MacFarlane

Director: Andrew Legge

A film that blends science fiction with time travel, LOLA challenges us to look at history, or rather its application, from a fresh viewpoint. Directed by Andrew Legge, caption cards tell us that we are watching footage, dating back to 1941, recovered from a secluded house. We are introduced to sisters Thomasina and Martha Hanbury (Emma Appleton and Stefanie Martini). They live in the house alone: both their parents are dead. The girls are, on the face of it, very different. Thomasina, or Thom, is sleekly androgynous; Martha more conventional in appearance. But together they have worked on a top-secret project. A machine, named after their mother, that allows them to see into the future.

The machine, LOLA, has a large screen (a crystal ball, to all extents) at its centre. As the machine whirrs, Thom taps in co-ordinates. The machine intercepts future broadcasts: there is David Bowie singing Space Oddity (Martha’s favourite); close-ups of JFK. It’s not just a window on a new world. The girls are living life according to the lyrics of Bob Dylan. Their bohemian lifestyle is, quite literally, decades ahead of its time.

As the Second World War rages around them, they decide to use the machine to warn of impeding air-raids. The broadcasts are anonymous, and Martha’s voice is dubbed the “Angel of Portobello”. The army track down their signals, and Lt Sebastian Holloway (Rory Fleck Byrne), confronts the girls. They (unofficially) join the Intelligence Corps. With LOLA working towards the greater good, the machine effectively becomes their Enigma. They intercept air-raids, the German navy suffers heavy defeats. Churchill tells Britain that it is winning the war.

But with the saving of countless lives, the trajectory of the future begins to change. As Martha excitedly tries to show Sebastian her favourite clip of David Bowie, LOLA shows them footage of a different performer standing in his place. Reginald Watson (voiced by Neil Hannon) has become the avant-garde, working-class superstar. Martha scans the machine for Bob Dylan. He cannot be found.

When the girls’ strategy accidentally steers the war in a different direction, their perfect plan unravels, with consequences for everyone involved. Archive footage and CGI are patched together to create an alternate reality that is truly chilling. As Germany captures Britain, Hitler is filmed arriving in London to a hero’s welcome. In a superb bit of satire, we realise that Watson’s Kraftwerk-inspired music spouts Fascist rhetoric, the polar opposite of Dylan’s folk ballads.

Screenwriters MacFarlane and Legge have a great deal of fun with the alt-history stuff, but if LOLA has a weakness, it’s in the depiction of the relationships between the main characters. Martha and Thom’s early years aren’t explored enough; an affair between Martha and Sebastian feels more perfunctory than kismet. But where emotional detail is lacking, LOLA delivers in its take on history. It is not inevitable, immovable but something fluid and shape-shifting. We see history being made and unmade; not in the victories, but the close call, the near miss.

Signature Entertainment presents LOLA in UK and Irish Cinemas 7th April.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Science fiction meets time travel

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The Reviews Hub Film Team is under the editorship of Maryam Philpott.

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