One Life Stand Review
At the centre of One Life Stand is Trise, a single mother in her forties trying to eke out a meagre existence in modern day Scotland and do the best by her 18-year old son. The film captures her both by day and by night, yet it’s her work which proves most interesting. Manning the telephones at a premium rate “Tarot” service, the job allows her an insight into many a small-scale domestic drama. Much like One Life Stand itself, in fact – a low-key, minimally budgeted venture, it offers us a two-hour window into the life of Trise and relates her own little dramas.
Somewhat inauspicious perhaps, yet One Life Stand holds an important place in the history of British cinema. The first feature in the UK to have been shot entirely on DV, it may seem a little strange to find such a remote drama earning such a title. And yet, conversely, it also makes perfect sense as the British cinema of the past 50 years or so has so often been built on this kind of thing. Gritty, realistic and focussing on the family unit, One Life Stand easily fits in with the films of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, say, or the output of the Amber collective, whilst one-offs such as Carine Adler’s Under the Skin or Stephen Frears’ Roddy Doyle adaptations also spring to mind. Indeed, May Miles Thomas’ debut is tough, even brutal at times, and defiantly unsentimental in its stance, but also leavened with a welcome of stark, honest humour.
Furthermore, this grittiness and sense of dramatic integrity works well with the rough-hewn qualities inherent in DV production. Given its miniscule budget One Life Stand is effectively free from any unnecessary considerations; there are no overt commercial concerns nor backers to satisfy, and as such we arrive at some kind of purity of vision. You sense that we’re getting the film as originally conceived – and not simply because Thomas also served as producer and editor. Meanwhile, the DV image doesn’t equate to cheapness, but instead comes across as really quite stylish. Eschewing the more obvious approaches favoured by subsequent British DV features such as The Jolly Boys’ Last Stand (mock home video) or One For the Road (jittery, agitated, aggressive), One Life Stand goes for more overtly cinematic techniques: high contrast black and white photography; slick editing as you’d expect from a 35mm feature, say; and a superbly atmospheric score courtesy of Booby James Henry. Had the film actually been shot on celluloid rather than digitally, there really would be few differences to the end result here.
More importantly, this overall sense of design allows the drama to speak for itself. We’re able to move away from the style of the film and instead concentrate more fully on Trise, her son’s unexpected move into the world of being a male escort (not that One Life Stand is in any way sensationalist), and her alcoholic ex-husband. Indeed, there’s nothing particularly grand going on in narrative terms, just a series of compelling character turns which build to some highly effective moments. Interestingly, the better known of the three leads, Gary Lewis (memorable from many film and TV appearances, both in the UK and internationally) who plays the ex, is onscreen for the least amount of time, yet tellingly it doesn’t show. The star of the piece is easily Maureen Carr who lends Trise a huge dramatic weight and heartbreaking undertow, whilst the bond with onscreen son John Kielty is really quite palatable. And of course, this is all incredibly vital in allowing the film to ring true, which ultimately it does. Thomas seems to understand the milieu and captures it very distinctively – even the chatty taxi driver who crops up for a few brief moments feels just right.
That said, minor flaws do creep in, perhaps inevitably given that this is a feature debut. At two hours, One Life Stand can seem a mite overlong, especially as some of the plot strands take a little time to hit their stride. Similarly, Thomas can over-egg the stylistic impulses at times, especially when it comes to the jaunty montage sequences which understandably break up the action and in doing so never feel quite right. And yet, each of these is only a minor quibble as opposed to full-blown complaint. Indeed, when One Life Stand does hit its stride then the results really can be quite magnificent – and more than enough to outweigh such tiny problems. It may be only a small picture, yet its effects can be really quite grand.
Gaining a release through its producers and their Elemental Films imprint, One Life Stand comes to DVD in fine condition. It’s true that we shouldn’t expect too much from the low-budget DV image, but then there are no technical flaws to speak of on the disc manufacture front. We get the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced and with optional subtitles for the hearing impaired. (The latter, incidentally, being a particularly welcome option as they offer translations for some of the more obscure colloquial terms.) As for the soundtrack, here we find the original DD2.0 recording which, although it does at times demonstrate flaws inherent in the production, again comes across especially well. All told, it seems very much the case that we’re getting the film in as good a condition as could be the case.
As for extras, the disc comes with a number of welcome – and admittedly unexpected - additions. The 18-minute featurette ‘Adventures in DV’ is a particularly fine EPK piece which succinctly takes us through the film’s production as well as the various pros and cons of DV production. There are also a number of deleted scenes which, though not essential, add a number of character touches and also include a particularly startling sequence which highlights (some would say over-emphasises!) the Oedipal connections between Trise and her son. Plus, to round off the package, we also find a pair of trailers, one of which has been newly produced, the other from the time of the film’s initial release (if you can describe it as such seeing as a full theatrical run never quite materialised).
As such, we’re faced with a rather fine package and one for which Elemental should be congratulated. The disc is currently only available through their website and as a result isn’t likely to attract a huge custom, yet they’ve put terrific effort in nonetheless. Furthermore, such energies should be seen as a demonstration to other small-scale outfits elsewhere. We really do want to see films such as this, yet it’s so often the case that we just don’t get the opportunity. Hopefully, One Life Stand and other self-financed DVD ventures (such as the Amber collective have begun to do and various short film makers) will become far more prominent in the near future.
'One Life Stand' can be purchased from Elemental Films via their website at www.onelifestand.co.uk. You can also obtain an exclusive DVD Times discount of 15% by using entering the code DVL872.