The last chapter in his ‘Modern Romance Trilogy’ sees writer-director Jamie Adams and a band of British talent take to the hills in quirky, sardonic comedy Black Mountain Poets. Combining a hippy writers retreat with a shambolic Duke of Edinburgh expedition, it revolves around the uncontrollably mischievous antics of sisters Lisa (Alice Lowe) and Claire (Dolly Wells). Less than successful con artists on the run after the failed theft of a JCB digger, the reasons for which are left intriguingly unexplained, they stumble upon the Poet’s Poetry Society gathering by mistake after stealing the car of renowned verse-writing duo The Wilding Sisters. It’s an oddball, meandering journey where demons must be excised, navel-gazing is more important than any physical destination and pretence must be maintained at all costs, for there is an £11,000 prize at stake.
Adams’ film draws certain parallels with the likes of Withnail and I but the personal voyages of discovery here have none of the satirical bile, genuine literary substance or alcohol-induced hilarity of Richard E. Grant and Paul McGann’s cult classic odyssey. Modestly budgeted and reportedly shot in just five days, there are highs and lows but the indie endeavour ends up slip-sliding away in the muddy Welsh countryside. Led by two commendable, and at times genuinely amusing, naturalistic performances by Lowe and Wells, Adams’ film could achieve a similar following to its elder Lake District cousin in terms of a number of very quotable lines. Another refreshing focus is the foregrounding of a pair of women whose rudderless existentialism has them lost in both a literal and figurative sense. Concerns of sex, fertility, the past, present and future, letting go of one another, and settling down are all teasingly dropped into the quick-fire improvised dialogue but never develop past the early planning stages.
The same applies to the film’s overall spontaneity which is both a blessing and a curse. That the girls so easily feign poetic credentials, no-one knows what the genuine articles look like and such an enormous prize is on offer is all rather hard to accept. With little to no background on the sisters – other than one heartfelt plea to her father in the heavens from Claire that suggests a whole raft of unresolved issues – we’re meant to laugh at just how funny and disorganised the whole charade is. The dashingly handsome and convincing everyman Tom Cullen (of Downtown Abbey fame) is the cat amongst many pigeons – his erstwhile lady friend Louise (Rosa Robson) also shows up – as a love quadrangle of sorts forms but none of the sentiment really plucks too firmly at the heartstrings despite the best efforts of a committed ensemble. Although it may not do anything too profound on a narrative level, Adams’ latest will surely urge many to take a trip to the titular Welsh wilderness which is stunningly photographed by Ryan Eddleston in earthy, rich beauty. Kooky and sporadically droll, Black Mountain Poets ends up being as vacuous and irritatingly pretentious as its assembled luminaries.