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Alex Lawther in Departure

On the couch with Andrew Steggall, between psychology and nature in Departure

By Manon Variol

Andrew Steggall
Andrew Steggall

If Andrew Steggall’s name does not ring a bell with you, you should make a note of it. On 20 May, the director will release his first feature film: Departure. A moving drama about major emotional transformations, filmed in Southern France with a terrific cast. What if one person could change your vision of life? 

Andrew Steggall is used to short films. He has written and directed four, which were very well received by their audience. To The Marriage of True Minds, about two Iraqi men in London, won the Goethe Institute prize at the Zebra poetry festival in Berlin. Sparrow deals with an old man’s fragility and The Door is an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s short story about a man haunted by a childhood memory. In The Red Bike, which received the Iris UK Best Short film prize, tells the story of a gay boy’s coming-of-age. A theme that Andrew Steggall focused on again with Departure. “I wanted to explore the idea that we know things before we know them,” the director confessed, “the characters need to learn and to grow with the knowledge which already exists inside them.”

The beginning and the end of a love story

Andrew Steggall had the idea for Departure even before directing his first short film. A journey in the Montagne Noire, in Southern France, inspired him for his script. Departure  is the story of a British mother and her teenage son, Beatrice and Elliot, going to their holiday house in France to pack up their belongings. The 15-year-old boy discovers sexuality while his mother realises her marriage is over. Their vision of life will drastically change when they meet Clément, a young and masculine French boy. “The mother and the son have two parallel journeys”, Steggall said, “Clément makes them look at themselves and gives meaning to their physical desire.”

Juliet Stevenson playing Beatrice
Juliet Stevenson playing Beatrice

An emotional triangle is created between the characters. Beatrice, brilliantly played by Juliet Stevenson, suffers in silence until her husband comes to sell the house. Elliot is a teenager who finds out he is gay, focusing on his own feelings and ignoring his mother’s pain. The young sensitive poet falls in love with Clément, a solid man, at least in appearance, speaking impressive English for a teenager from rural France. But even the dialogue makes reference to the cliché, which will bring a smile to your face.

Alex Lawther and Phénix Brossard
Alex Lawther and Phénix Brossard

Alex Lawther gives a vivid performance as Elliot for his first leading role. Already known for playing young Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, he won the Best Actor award at the Dublin Film Festival for Departure. And if his character speaks good French, it was almost a problem for Andrew Steggall. “Alex Lawther is better in French than I wanted Elliot to be” the director admitted, “so we had to simplify his pronunciation and the dialogues.” When auditioning actors for the role of Elliot, Andrew Steggall thought Alex was brilliantly bringing poetry to the character. To play Clément, he had to find an actor who would complement Lawther. Phénix Brossard, also seen in Chocolat alongside Omar Sy, was the right choice for a gruff rural boy hiding both his pain and kindness.

A British film shot in France

The project took a long time to be filmed. Andrew Steggall explained: “We had to build the different components, find money and work with the changing seasons in Languedoc.” The greatest asset to Departure is actually the place where the story takes place. The omnipresent nature is breathtaking, enhanced by Brian Fawcett’s gorgeous photography. Post-production was done in London, but most of the film was shot in the South of France. When asked why he made this choice, Andrew Steggall highlights the beauty of the country: “It needed to be in a foreign country so the characters experience change. France is similar to Britain, but more romantic. And this is a thing Beatrice notices when she is drunk. She says that this is the way the French speak.” 

In summary, this is a complex story that plunges into the three characters’ psychology. I liked the film, but, personally, I found the end a little too cheesy. Anyway, I would still recommend you to see it and be your own judge, from 20 May!


Andrew Steggall will be at Ciné Lumière on 22 June for a Q&A


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