For most of us, a windswept caravan park in Norfolk would be a pretty miserable place to make a home, but not so for young teenagers David (Thomas Turgoose) and Emily (Holliday Grainger). Utterly inseparable, the pair find joy in the most mundane of situations; we first see them leaping across caravan roofs in the half-light of dawn. Their adolescent utopia is put under threat, however, when Emily’s dad announces she will be moving away, and – desperate to preserve their friendship – David agrees to help Emily go ‘missing’ in the caves near their home. But as the situation escalates, and Emily reveals her deepest secrets, David finds himself increasingly out of his depth…
A surprise highlight of the 2009 London Film Festival, Scouting is one of those films that seems to come out of nowhere and knocks you sideways. Jack Thorne’s excellent script challenges expectations from the outset; set within the insular world of the caravan park, the narrative is a compelling character study as seen through Emily and David’s young, and often naive, eyes. Thrown together by their meagre circumstances – alcoholic and absentee parents are the least of their problems – the pair’s closeness is, in fact, the catalyst for the increasingly shocking events of the film.
True, the adults around them may not be so deeply developed – Rafe Spall as an older camp guard who turns Emily’s head, Stephen Mackintosh as a copper concerned with furthering his career – but they are intentionally bit players in this dark drama, as they are in the kids’ lives. Everyone involved is excellent, Turgoose and Grainger are perfect in their roles, demonstrating a mix of vulnerability and waning innocence as they stand on the cusp of adulthood, with a believable chemistry that fuels the narrative, while Mackintosh, Spall and Susan Lynch provide sterling support.
Debut director Tom Harper and cinematographer Robbie Ryan do justice to Thorne’s exemplary script, capturing the capturing the childlike energy and spirit and the darker aspects of the plot with a naturalistic, low-key style that befits a story that’s small in scale but big in ideas. By the time this absolute gem of a film reaches its jaw-dropping denouement, it will have got completely under your skin.
This review was originally written for The Scouting Book For Boys’ theatrical release in March 2010; the film is now available on DVD.