December Boys Review

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Four orphans spend the summer at a small beach cove, where the eldest, Maps (Radcliffe), falls in love with the mysterious Lucy (Palmer) and the younger boys compete for prospective adoptive parents.


Ah, that difficult first non-Potter film. Rupert Grint negotiated these tricky waters last year with Driving Lessons, and now Daniel Radcliffe too is venturing outside Hogwarts. Like Grint, he’s chosen a fairly small-scale indie to do so, and like Grint he acquits himself pretty well, even if the film itself is as old-fashioned as pinafores and blue rinses.

This Aussie drama concerns four orphan boys in a Catholic orphanage deep in the Outback. One summer, they’re given the chance to visit an elderly couple on the coast, to get their first taste of the sea and the wider world. What follows is a coming-of-age for Radcliffe’s Maps, and a test of their friendship for his younger companions.

The first question, of course, is how Radcliffe does, shorn of the lightning scar and wand - and the answer is not bad. He manages the Australian accent with barely a quaver, and gives a good impression of a much less secure character than we’re used to seeing from him. But his face is still curiously blank, rather detracting from the effect of spot-on voice-work and body language. Perhaps it’s the role, but he’ll need to do more to prove that he has that movie magic outside Rowling’s world.

The standout performance, in fact, is probably Lee Cormie as Misty, the youngest of the four boys and the most determined to be adopted. While the others frolic around the hills and mess about in boats, Misty focuses on making himself attractive to cute neighbouring couple Fearless and Teresa (Sullivan Stapleton and Victoria Hill) in the hope of securing a family of his own, and impressing the elderly couple who are lodging the boys on the off-chance that they’ll put in a good word. By comparison, Christian Byers and James Fraser barely get a look-in, despite a fishing sub-plot and the best efforts of both young actors, and the adults make no impression at all.

The whole thing feels quaint in tone and subject. The pacing is unhurried and the quartet of boys do things unthinkable by modern teens - sneakily smoking after lights out or running about all day without resorting to any form of gaming console. But in the end, the traditional feel may owe more to the material’s familiarity than the filmmakers’ intent.

More Sunday afternoon filler than cinema sensation, it’s a perfectly pleasant drama, but you’ll struggle to remember it the next day.