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'Inspirational' acting in pre-#MeToo drama - Jellyfish scoops French festival awards

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Team Jellyfish with their Hitchcock trophies after winning four awards at the 29th Dinard Film Festival, 2018 Rosslyn Hyams, September 2018

As the tide came in and the moon began to wane on Saturday, James Gardner’s directorial debut hauled in a big catch in Brittany’s annual celebration of British film. His first feature film nabbed the festival's first-time award for best actor and first-ever critics’ jury award as well as best screenplay, and the top award, the Golden Hitchcock.


Liv Hill was only 16 when she acted in Jellyfish, her first feature-film part.

She appears in almost every scene as 15-year-old Sarah Taylor whose single-parent mum is unable to cope.

To keep the family from being separated by social services, Sarah looks after her mother as well as her two much younger siblings.

She has to juggle domestic and parental duties with school, where she is disliked and mouthy.

Moreover, as she is the sole breadwinner, she works in the evenings amid slot machines and needy, greedy men.

Hill takes on a tough role as a youngster facing tough challenges and pulls it off.

First radio interview

Two years after the film was shot, in her first-ever radio interview, Hill talked to RFI about her character with as much aplomb as if it were her 500th.

"This was written before the #MeToo movement," she pointed out. "A lot of men in the film take advantage of Sarah, of her desperation. When she’s getting money in the way that she does, you can’t judge her for that, because she’s so desperate. I think this is happening so much, in so many places around the world.”

In Hill’s view, the film is not entirely bleak.

“Throughout her life she’s surviving and not thriving which is what I think we should all try and aim for," Hill comments. "She just has no opportunity to do that. Whilst it’s not a fairy-tale ending, there’s hope.”

Her performance stunned the jury of French and British actors, directors and one producer. They were led to break ground at Dinard by insisting on awarding her the festival’s first-ever best actor prize describing her work in Jellyfish as "inspirational."

Her anger is channelled through stand-up comic writing, and ultimately a performance on stage. Hill takes on the bitterness of this role wholeheartedly.

"British humour is witty but can be very dark as well. Dead pan a lot of the time.  In such a heavy film like Jellyfish, the lighter moments are needed although, in my opinion, not all are that light."

Critics hard to please

“Bloody hell! Crikey!” exclaimed James Gardner as his began his acceptance speech for the first Hitchcock award he received on Saturday for Jellyfish, announced by the professional film critics’ jury. “You are usually so hard to please”.

Gardner was very modest, considering the crescendo of awards for Jellyfish at the Dinard film festival ceremony. It ended in Jellyfish winning the Golden Hitchcock, the top prize, which guarantees the film will release in France.

In Jellyfish Gardner and director of photography Peter E Riches illuminate and magnify the British seaside resort of Margate, with its amusement arcade, Dreamland fun-park, and they turn traffic on a seafront roundabout into a choreography of indifference.

Jellyfish screenwriter Simon Lord won the best screenplay Hitchcock and remarked that for “a little film made with a lot of heart" it was great to receive the award in Dinard, “another small town by the sea in France, just like Margate where the film is set, a small town by the sea in England".

The uncertainty of pre-Brexit times weighed on the artists' minds in Dinard and Lord added, "Thank you to France for being a friend while England is going through a difficult period."

Public-school blues turn rosy

One other feature film out of the six in competition won an award at Dinard, Toby McDonald’s Old Boys with bilingual artist Alex Lawther playing Amberson the odd boy out at an English public school, who outsmarts the head boy and thumbs his nose at the system.

The audience rooted for charming, clever Amberson-Lawther, the underdog. His flame Pauline Etienne from Belgium plays romantic and creative Agnès, the only female the inmates/pupils of the all-boys school get a chance to see.

In a light, funny rom-com set about 30 years ago, Old Boys exposes more serious issues for youngsters and adults alike, which haven’t all disappeared since the public school system has modernised.

The Hitchcock Awards 2018 at the Dinard Film Festival of British film:

  • Golden Hitchcock (Cine+): Jellyfish, James Gardner
  • Hitchcock for Best Screenplay (Allianz): Jellyfish, Simon Lord
  • 1st-ever award for Best Actor: Liv Hill, as Sarah Taylor in Jellyfish
  • 1st-ever Critics Jury Hitchcock: Jellyfish, James Gardner
  • Coup de Coeur/Heartbeat Western France Art House Cinema Network Hitchcock: The Bookshop, Isabel Coixet, a Dinard Preview
  • Audience (Tetley Tea) Hitchcock: Old Boys, Toby McDonald
  • Short Film Hitchcock: The Bridge, Ian Robertson
  • Short film Jury special mention: Cabin Pressure, Matthew Lee
  • Short Film Audience Hitchcock: Two Strangers who Meet Five Times, Marcus Markou
  • Honorary (Barrière) Hitchcock: Actor Ian Hart