Britain doesn’t make many films anymore let alone Science Fiction or Fantasy but that wasn’t the reason I decided to watch Franklyn. In truth, it sounded like an interesting film with the kind of narrative play that I tend to like a great deal.
Franklyn follows several characters across two worlds. In Meanwhile City, a dystopian world ruled by a kaleidoscope of religious sects, the masked vigilante Preest searches for his nemesis, a man known only as the Individual. Nursing a vendetta for the death of a girl Preest has a clear purpose: to kill the Individual. In London, Emilia is a fucked up art student struggling to put her past behind her and find her creative centre without killing herself in the process. Milo’s been stood up by his fiancé and can’t stop dwelling on his childhood sweetheart. While Esser trawls the streets and hospitals for his runaway son ignored by his estranged ex-wife and holding onto the last thing he has: his faith.
There are many things to like about Franklyn. The cast includes some standout talent including Bernard Hill (Lord of the Rings, Boys from the Blackstuff) and Eva green (Casino Royale). Even adequate performers like Ryan Phillippe. The set design for Meanwhile City is interesting, if confused, and sections of the film’s photography are very nicely done. The film’s central conceit, about the nature of memory and reality, is an interesting one with a great deal of promise. And so the whole should be greater than the sum of these parts?
The film falls short of its promise. On reflection, I think this is at least in part to do with the decision to follow four lead characters over four distinct story arcs in a ninety-minute film. It’s simply too much for this length of film and inevitably it makes it difficult to identify with or feel sympathy for Milo, for example. This also makes it far too easy to work out the film’s somewhat inevitable climax that falls like a damp squib rather than an emotionally satisfying close.
This is the most obvious symptom of a good idea that has not been thoroughly thought through. On delving closer there is further evidence: the logic of Meanwhile City is not clear and the story arc that takes place there is weak due to an onerous flashback. In general the transitions between the two worlds are handled badly in away that only the most forgiving audience would characterise as planned. But these are not its greatest sin.
Perhaps it’s a symptom of the truncated running time but the film falls foul of the greatest of sins: logical consistency. Be it fantasy, horror, SF, slipstream or whatever: it should be logically consistent within the framework of the story. There simply isn’t enough build around the hospital cleaner or Milo’s childhood sweetheart for their presence to feel like anything other than a clunking deus ex machina.
For all of its many failings Franklyn is a bold and brave attempt at an interesting idea. Writers and directors will find a useful lesson in the flexibility of narrative while more general viewers can enjoy a solid set of performances and some interesting cinematography.
Worth a view but don’t expect to be blown away.