Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 30 minutes, Director – Billie Piper
Single mother Mandy (Billie Piper) finds her life crumbling around her as she continues a relationship with misogynistic co-worker Pete (Leo Bill).
It feels unlikely that we’ll see a bigger, more punchable villain than Pete (Leo Bill) this year. For much of Rare Beasts’ run-time the audience, alongside Billie Piper’s central figure Mandy, are subjected to his misogynistic tirades that are passed off as traditionalist views. Evidence that this is a major understatement appears in the opening scene where he spits, as if he’s just been wrongfully attacked “women these days have got more testosterone coursing through their veins than blood”. Piper’s film, her directorial debut, pitches this opening scene like a first date gone wrong. Pete speaks his mind openly and it makes for plenty of unbelievable and awkward moments that pitch two totally opposite characters. However, the relationship doesn’t stop here. Mandy continues to see Pete and is continuously held back by him.
Alongside the repression she experiences from her relationship Mandy finds herself silenced, alongside the other women she works with, in her TV pitch think-group job. At home she tries to balance looking after her potentially autistic young son Larch (Toby Woolf) with dealing with the distant, feuding, relationship between her parents (Kerry Fox and David Thewlis). It’s apparent that her life is crumbling around her. Yet, Piper finds ways to integrate elements of fantasy within the film. Fantasy that still feels real and fits within the world of the film. It’s present as Mandy is herself, away from the toxic spoutings of Bill’s, although brilliantly performed, utterly obnoxious chauvinist.
When walking through the streets of London Mandy occasionally passes stressed individuals repeating to themselves assurances that despite their worries “I still love and respect myself”. It’s something she finds herself mentally repeating to herself, however more in terms of the relationship that she finds herself uncertain as to how she still remains there, or perhaps unsure as to how to leave it. As the film proceeds Piper’s character changes, and not exactly for the better. Her stresses are brought to the fore and she finds herself juggling multiple elements of her personal life while being told by the person who is supposed to be her ‘romantic’ partner that she has “terrible energy” – there are points where the relationship feels reminiscent of that in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. Her life is spiralling, pulled backwards and forwards, upwards and downwards. Growing in confidence, challenging toxicity within her workplace while making little progress in talking to her alcoholic father and the “classic male bullsh!t” that surrounds her. It’s apparent that the fantasy is draining from her life, gradually bit by bit, well managed by Piper’s direction.
Through and through this is Piper’s film. She leads us into fantasy that’s grounded in the real world and prepares us for crashing back to the realisation that this is indeed where we are. And more so just who we’re with at that point. Hope comes with struggle which gradually turns into pain and anger before that translates into passionate outbursts for freedom. It blends together to form a fine character piece, observing a disastrous relationship that you, like Mandy, feel stuck in. It’s more than a lingering bad date and the film puts that feeling across well. There’s plenty present to engage with and there are certainly plenty of emotional responses from scene to scene that truly take you on the course that the central figure travels and develops across throughout the short 90 minute run-time of the film. It establishes a new voice in British writing (adding to the success of her co-created, with Lucy Prebble, hit show I Hate Suzie) and directing. One who knows just how to craft characters and place you right next to them on their personal journeys and formations.
Billie Piper’s directorial debut is a strong piece of character work, helped by two strong central performances that truly capture the toxic repression that her character faces. Blended with additional real world fantasy Rare Beasts is a fine observation of character unlocking.