Raindance ’21 Review: ‘The Drowning of Arthur Braxton’ has noble intent but misses the mark

Stop me if you have heard this one before: a young man is bullied at school. His home life is broken thanks to absent parents (one physically, one emotionally). Miserable, he runs away from home and finds a magical thing that helps him regain his self-confidence and fix his life.

This is The Drowning of Arthur Braxton. His mother is gone, his dad is an alcoholic, and while hiding in an abandoned Edwardian bathhouse, he finds a young naked woman who turns out to be a water nymph who is destined to fall in love with him. If you think that there will be some twist that makes this more original than the other “boy finds magic fixes life” stories you’ve read, I’m here to warn you that there isn’t.

While the basic filmmaking is on point in Arthur Braxton and there are a couple of good performances (namely James Tarpey as Arthur and Keith Rice as his main bully, Tommy), there isn’t that much to set the film apart. First-time feature director Luke Cutforth is best known as a YouTuber, and while I think he has the technical know-how, his direction is bland unimaginative.

The story is adapted from a beloved book of the same name, one which reportedly is unflinching in its descriptions of what it’s like to be a teenager –in particular, a bullied one– but the film doesn’t go above or beyond anything we’ve seen before. It also seems to have two completely separate stories. Without spoiling anything, you could remove either the tale of Arthur finding the water nymph or the story of Arthur making peace with his bully and spurring his father back toward sobriety. The film wouldn’t suffer because they are only barely narratively connected.

It’s worth noting that I seem to be in the minority here. It was announced today that The Drowning of Arthur Braxton has won the Best UK Feature award at the Raindance Film Festival, but I feel like I must have seen a different movie than everyone else. As always, I am firmly on team “you should see it for yourself”, but I didn’t see much to recommend.

The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is playing at Raindance Film Festival tonight in-person at the Curzon Soho Cinema and online in the UK from November 7th to 9th.


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