Deaf nine-year-old Frankie (McElhone) has never met his father, but they stay in contact via letters. At least, that's what Frankie thinks in reality, his mother (Mortimer) scribbles the epistles, concocting a fantasy involving her ex's life at sea. It
Dear Frankie was a notable inclusion at last year's Cannes line-up for being the festival's sole British film. Director/ DoP Shona Auerbach must have been chuffed especially after receiving a 15-minute standing ovation but, now her feature debut's withdrawn from the Croisette spotlight and plonked back on home turf, it's hard to see how it honestly warranted such a rapturous response.
That's not to say it isn't a sweet tale, it's just that there's a distinct 'been here, seen that' feel, from the cosy, Scottish-postcard setting to the fact that the story centres on a child more grown-up than the adults around him (see also: Pure). The drama gains momentum once Gerard Butler appears as the tall, dark 'Stranger' who Lizzie pays to be fantasy-Dad-made-flesh.
Butler lends a moody presence, keeping it minimal and simmering as he clicks with Frankie and connects with Lizzie, driving the fractious single mum to snap out of her emotional stasis. But Andrea Gibb's script cops out come the conclusion, leaving you feeling somewhat deflated. It's not enough to spoil what's gone before, but sufficient to prevent recommendation over either Leigh or Loach's latests.
Pretty locations and solid acting keep this assured debut ticking along, but don't expect any big surprises.