With one half of the film taking place in a dark nightmare gothic fantasy world and the other half taking place in modern-day London, the former a darker reflection of the latter, the comparison to Franklyn’s schizophrenic split between fantasy and reality is obviously going to be made with Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, but in cinematic terms, Gerald McMorrow’s film fits closer to the sensibilities of Terry Gilliam’s dark fantasies (Time Bandits, Brazil and even Tideland) where the dividing line between good and evil, between fiction and reality, is not so clearly obvious. Added to this, McMorrow introduces some Kieslowski-like meditations on the subject of death, bereavement and loss and the vagaries of fate and chance that draw connections between people. If the resulting combination of these elements is somewhat disjointed and not entirely convincing on a character level, Franklyn manages to bring the various strands to a satisfying conclusion that works at least within its own terms.
Each of the four main characters in the film is finding it difficult to cope with a severely traumatic experience of loss in their lives. In the dark, gothic, futuristic fantasy world of Meanwhile City, Jonathan Preest (Ryan Philippe) is a lone atheist in a world dominated by cults and religions, where there is even a Seventh-Day Manicurist’s have their own sect. Donning a skull-like mask, Preest is hunting down the leader of one particular sect, known as the Individual, who he holds responsible for the death of his young sister. Seeking information on the whereabouts of the Individual on the dark streets of the city, Preest has to beware of the patrols of chimney-hatted Clerics, Meanwhile City’s dangerous law-enforcement agency, who are trying to hunt him down.
In present-day London, Emilia (Eva Green) is an art student who has deep problems in her relationship with her mother (Susannah York), blaming her for the disappearance of her father. Her father’s absence has left a deep hole in Emilia’s life, one she tries to express in her art project, a performance art project that involves her video-recording her elaborate attempts to commit suicide. The suicide attempts are real in every respect, only prevented from being carried to their conclusion by a phone-call that Emilia makes to the emergency services before carrying them out. A cry for help certainly, but a cry that Emilia feels there is no-one there to answer, and without a meaningful conclusion, she knows that her work and her life will remain unsatisfactory.
One of the subjects of Emilia’s previous art experiments involving the recording of random strangers, Milo (Sam Riley) is also going through a difficult stage in his life, having broken up with his fiancée not long before their planned wedding. The presence of a mysterious red-haired woman seen from the corner of his eye on the streets of London however reminds him of an old childhood sweetheart, and he relentlessly pursues this obsession. Meanwhile, Peter (Bernard Hill) is in London looking for his missing son David, who is ill and, according to the authorities, poses a threat to himself and to others.
Director Gerald McMorrow risks trying the viewer’s patience for a significant portion of the film, slipping between one character and the next, between one world and the next in fractured segments with no clear link connecting them together. If the viewer is held, it’s down to the excellent production design, just as effective in creating the vast gothic structures and dark alleys of Preest’s Meanwhile City, as it is in depicting the environments of the characters in contemporary London. If the film’s only purpose is in creating a striking puzzle and eventually reconnecting its shattered fragments into a coherent and meaningful whole, then Franklyn undoubtedly succeeds and rewards the viewer who is willing to stick with it, tying everything together satisfactorily and leaving no loose ends.
On a human and emotional level however the film is less successful, and it’s here that it really counts. The depth of the trauma that occurs with each of the characters should correspond with the fictional or fantasy element in their lives that sustains them through it, but what should pass for reality in the contemporary London sections is just as much a fantasy as the sequences in Meanwhile City. The significant events of loss in each of the characters lives aren’t fully explored or their resultant trauma explained and their actions consequently seem somewhat disproportionate and, let’s just say, “fanciful”. Franklyn remains then a lovely looking film and a delightful little puzzle that resolves itself rather neatly, but it has no real heart and soul behind it – something that is also evident in the performances – and without any sense of realism in the depiction of the characters to underpin the flights of fancy, any points the film has to make about chance, life, love, the randomness of fate and encounter come across as rather hollow.
Franklyn is released on Blu-ray in the UK by E1 Entertainment. The film is presented on BD25 disc with a 1080p encode. The extra features are also in High Definition. The disc is encoded for Region B.
Franklyn is meant to be a very dark looking film, but contrasts are a little over-pronounced on this Blu-ray release and shadow detail isn’t great. Contrasts are pushed to the extent that blacks are somewhat crushed – deeply saturated and often not showing a great deal of definition, with shadowed figures not really standing out from dark backgrounds - but really, it would be hard to expect much more from the transfer, even in High Definition. I ran this past my colleage on DVD Times, Matt Shingleton, and he was reasonably satisfied with handling of the blacks when the image was projected. In all other respects the colour scheme for the film is well handled and there is reasonably good detail in skin-tones and clarity of the overall presentation. The encoding may show up some minor niggles in with movements and camera pans not flowing smoothly but juddering and blurring ever so slightly, but this is perhaps unavoidable with the digitisation of 24p. I encountered mild instances of shimmer and aliasing in one or two places on my display, but again how evident this is may depend on your individual set-up. Certainly any issues are more evident in the first half-hour and seem to stabilise later in the film, or are at least less noticeable. When these issues are not present the film can often look fantastic – such as in the scene of Preest’s capture on the bridge by the Clerics – showing the full benefits of the HD encode.
Two high quality audio mixes are included – a 5.1 surround Dolby True-HD track and a English LPCM Stereo mix. The surrounds on the True-HD track are highly active for bar/café chatter and ambience, but also spread the music score around the speakers most effectively. Dialogue is mostly centre channel, Ryan Philippe’s narration deep and reverberating. It’s not the kind of full-bodied track that you might like, but when pushed, as on the music accompanying Emilia’s second suicide attempt, the LFE reverberation certainly kicks into action.
English hard of hearing subtitles are included for the feature.
A Moment in Meanwhile (29:42)
The Making of is based around snippets of interviews with the director, cast and crew who talk about their interest in being part of this unusual film and their approach to their roles in its making.
Deleted Scenes (4:12)
The three scenes, shown here with an indication of where they would have fitted into the film, are clearly trims and the film functions much better without them, although there’s another nice bit of weird religion humour in the second.
The trailer is a highly effective advertisement for the film, presenting an intriguing situation and some spectacular visuals.
On a first viewing Franklyn is slow to reveal where it is going with its diverse characters each in their separate threads, but it’s worth waiting for the revelations that bring their stories together. The film stands up well however to repeated viewing, just for the pleasure in seeing better how skilfully the various strands are interconnected, but the emotional heart that should underpin the film’s thoughts on the vagaries of the mind struggling to cope with loss and accept the wonder of the potential of the future are rather strained by the extreme circumstances of the characters. The fantastic visuals of Franklyn should really make this a perfect film for HD presentation and it does indeed look great, but the intentional darkness of the image and the minor niggles over the single-layer BD-25 encoding don't really make this a stand-out transfer. It’s a good film however and one that, since it didn't really get a wide theatrical distribution, is certainly worth seeing in either BD or DVD format.