British helmer Shona Auerbach made her feature debut with the "sweet and smart" Dear Frankie. Emily Mortimer stars as a woman who writes letters to her nine-year-old son (Jack McElhone) posing as his absent father. Sometime Phantom Gerard Butler plays the obliging stranger who brings those letters to life in this largely well-received but determinedly small-scale Scottish drama.
A Labour Of Love
In a fairly wide-reaching interview Auerbach explains that it was "the idea of unconditional love" and "how far you're willing to go when you love someone" that drew her to the story. As well as the usual notes on development and casting, she reveals a meticulous approach to directing (and cinematography) that included a very specific colour palette. White was banned in favour of earthy tones used by the so-called Glasgow Boys school of art in the 19th century. "We took it very seriously," she admits. "Perhaps too seriously." She also confesses that the pressure of making her first feature film amplified the desire to get every detail just so.
Auerbach talks in more specific terms for the feature commentary. For example, she explains her choice of framing and makes particular reference to the use of tight close-ups for "creating intrigue" about the characters. Beyond that, she takes us inside the mind of each character and reveals their true motives at every step. On the matter of working with children, there were no apparent problems but Auerbach ensured that Jack McElhone was thoroughly prepared for his role as a deaf boy by taking him to a "deaf club" and having him interact with the children.
Eight deleted scenes are also presented with optional director's commentary, but there isn't much to alter or enhance what already exists in the final cut. Mostly these are visual signposts for the main characters, such as a scene where Frankie is mesmerised by an aquarium, suggesting his fascination with the sea (and his supposedly seafaring father). Much more obvious is an extended scene where Lizzie (Mortimer) confesses her deception. Of course, as Auerbach explains, its blatancy was the very reason it ended up on the cutting room floor.
Finally we're treated to Auerbach's award-winning short film Seven, which helped land her the job of directing Dear Frankie. It's inspired by Shakespeare's Seven Ages Of Man, except the focus is on a Polish woman who watches her life (and several incarnations of womanhood) flash before her eyes after taking a tumble from the roof of her house. It perfectly demonstrates Auerbach's ability to be simultaneously funny and poignant without Hollywood-esque manipulations.
Sadly there are no contributions from the cast, or direct behind-the-scenes access, but this modest batch of extras does open a revealing window on Shona Auerbach and deservedly celebrates her achievement as a new and promising British director. In all, this DVD edition of Dear Frankie is worth writing home about.