Third Star (2010) is a film which had great potential as a showcase for British talent, starring Tinker Tailor Solider Spy’s (2011) Benedict Cumberbatch, JJ Feild and Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville. This is the first feature for Hattie Dalton, better known for her award-winning BAFTA shorts and work on the critically acclaimed Notes on a Scandal (2006).
At the centre of the story is James (Cumberbatch), recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, who decides as a last request to visit his favourite place on earth, Barafundle Bay in West Wales. He takes with him a group of his lifelong friends who, along the way, face emotional and physical difficulties and reveal truths kept hidden for many years.
Third Star adapts the road movie model, adding a public school twist and not necessarily for the better. At times, Dalton’s feature debut is highly comical and touching, yet the ‘rugger-buggers do road trip’ narrative may prove tiresome for some.
Positives of the film include its cast, with Cumberbatch at the forefront, in addition to a well-written script packed with some great dialogue. The choice of location, Pembrokeshire, enhances the film greatly, creating a sense of drama with its sweeping landscapes and shots of some of the most beautiful coastlines in the UK. On the other hand, it may leave you questioning whether this is a film about a man trying to come to terms with his premature death or a tourism advert for South Wales.
The other problem with Third Star is its pace. An hour-an-a-half long film of a man coming to terms with dying is bound to be heavy-viewing, and there is some comic relief. However, a balance is never quite reached between the two and one can feel ricocheted between highs and lows all too quickly. The result is that you never really have time to absorb a moment or get particularly involved in the characters.
The other difficulty is the use of surrealism and pseudo-spirituality, reminiscent of a late-night conversation at a party when everyone has had a bit too much of one substance or another and inevitably asks, “What does it all mean?” The slightly bizarre opening sequence was all too similar of Doctor Who, with Cumberbatch’s head soliloquising within the night sky. It’s an incredibly pretentious choice of opening by Dalton, and gives a strong inkling that this is going to be a strained effort. Bonneville’s performance as a crazed beach-comber is entertaining – explaining that he is on a quest to find a rare shipment of Star Wars figures – but in general, these fleeting moments of absurd surrealism fall flat on their face.
Had Third Star been screened on a Sunday night on BBC One, it would have been less of a disappointment. Yet somehow, it achieved a cinema release and perhaps should have stuck to fighting in its own, non-cinematic weight category.