Writers: Jo Sargeant and Clare-Louise English
Director: Clare-Louise English
Determined to stretch its capabilities in storytelling during lockdown the Homemakers Project is a series of new commissions. A showcase of diverse talents, ranging from straight dramatic performances to voice-overs, mime artistry and digital editing and deaf dramaturge, My Darling Christopher is a compact film featuring hopeful rising stars as they hone their skillset.
On the shores of foreign soil, away from his family, Christopher, a young Naval officer, reads a letter from his wife on a peculiar encounter their son Clive had while attending Goring school, following his evacuation from Margate’s school for the deaf. A story which focuses on inclusive story mechanics, My Darling Christopher centres on the day a fighter plane crash lands metres from Clive’s classroom.
A young boy at the dawning of war, Clive Davis contracted meningitis, resulting in the loss of his hearing and sight. Navigating his way through life, Clive finds a new way to communicate with his mother and overcome both his lack of senses, but also to survive the war.
Minimal to the story, Robin Paley Yorke’s titular role fulfils a narrative purpose, sat on the shores as he reads the words of his wife Dorothy, her voice-over provided by writer Jo Sargeant. Sargeant captures an elegance, providing a clarity in speech but conveying the delicacy of a concerned mother, as much as a loving wife.
Despite the theatrical nature of the production companies and cast, My Darling Christopher, at only nine minutes, demonstrates canny cinematography, with steady wide shots and the occasional diverse angle when lowering to Clive’s level at school. David Monteith-Hodge’s direction of photography is clean, refraining from over-saturating scenes and focuses on the performers, save for the pilot’s descent which overuses editing effects, superimposing archive footage over a visual vernacular, with the two competing for focus.
Principally the focus lies not with Christopher, but his son Clive, a deaf child whose time at boarding school is opening his mind and improving his confidence. Calling upon the real Clive Davis for authenticity in his performance, along with benefitting from Stephen Collin’s exceptional ability as a deaf dramaturge, William Grint is front and centre the success of My Darling Christopher. The childlike glee, expressive emotions and movements shift the performance from a British Sign Language recitation and into authentic life; Grint is Davis.
The pilot’s infusion of excessive movements, with elements of mime work, Brian Duffy’s fluid movement and precision detract more than it could potentially add, and on occasion even comes off as distasteful. Orchestrating a visual reinforcement of aerial battles, bombardments and assaults over Europe, Duffy’s rapid hand movements are a stark difference from Grint’s earnest performance as Davis. Duffy’s peculiar need to insert exaggerations and, even comic nuances in what seems to suggest a more harrowing scene is off-putting and dips the film into a brief nose-dive.
There is a pull-up, however, as Sargeant’s return as Dorothy to close out the piece leaves a tenderness, reinforced by Grint’s humble performance. My Darling Christopher respects the life of Clive Davis, as equally as it offers a glimpse at the honour that he paid his father. A touching film, which benefits greatly from its promotion of deaf dramaturgy, simply leans too much on editing and poorly integrated visuals.
Available here to rent