Taking the pregnant pauses and wordless looks out of this Bergmanesque country-house drama would be an improvement. But Dan Wilde's first feature, which he wrote as well as directed, does have a certain fascination of its own, as he tries to do something dif ferent and sometimes succeeds.
Jim Ferris was a very rich industrialist with a grand mansion -- and a family who are devastated by his sudden death. His wife, Alice (Jennifer Ehle), does her best to cope as a single mother before falling for nice widower Clive (Patrick Baladi). But Jim's son (Mark Wells) and daughter (Amelia Warner) go virtually catatonic, and Alice's sister (Trudie Styler), who rather fancied the dead man, becomes an emotional liability.
There are others in the grip of terminal neuroticism, demonstrating, rather comfortingly, that the very rich are seldom capable of more happiness than the rest of us.
Thanks, however, to good acting and Wilde's determination to paint the sequestered and repressed scene with some subtlety and emotional truth, Alpha Male grips even when it is at its most irritating. Here is a British film-maker who will almost certainly make a name for himself.
Nigel Andrews, Financial Times (requires subscription):
Alpha Male, a first feature from the British writer-director Dan Wilde, proves the upper classes still exist. This is Gosford Park for the Google age. It sets its search engine down in a manorial estate, types in "guilty family secrets" and gets pages of fictive answers: "Late dad Danny Huston's child by his wife's sister", "What the daughter saw the gardener doing", "Drunken Hooray Henry makes love to son's girlfriend", and so on.
Nothing changes among the toffs of England. There'll always be a Debrett's while there's a dynasty eating too many cucumber sandwiches. Wilde's film is enjoyable, although it is shot in an HDV that makes the lawns look like shimmering Astroturf and Jennifer Ehle (as Mum) like a wobbly-textured Meryl Streep. Those negotiating the deep-sea visuals are rewarded by a modest treasure chest of a plot, with a skilful two-generation time frame. For once, each pair of older and younger actors playing the same characters really do resemble each other.
Ian Johns, The Times:
It’s a struggle to engage with the British film Alpha Male, which never leaves its country-house setting and feels all the more insular for it. The writer-director Dan Wilde charts the family tensions behind the return of a prodigal son for his 21st birthday. We learn the roots of these strained relations through flashbacks that reveal how his mother (Jennifer Ehle) remarried after the death of his father (Danny Huston), who had an affair with his jealous aunt (Trudie Styler).
The film is all privileged introspection and repressed emotion, qualities that Joseph Losey and Stephen Poliakoff have spun into more involving drama in the past. The performances are fine but the tone and characterisation remain too aloof to sustain interest in a film in which even the pauses seem scripted. And you’re left wondering why Green Wing’s Mark Heap has a silent cameo as a gardener — did most of his performance end up on the cutting-room floor?
Alpha Male is out today, Fri 11th. We await your reports, Londoners!
According to international distributor Capitol Films (via Agent E, muchas gracias), no US release is planned so far. Waiting for word about down under.