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The Butterfly Tattoo

September 19, 2009
Phillip Pullman’s back-catalogue is getting quite the run-out these days, and so, now, parallel universes away from His Dark Materials, we have The Butterfly Tattoo, a smart and considered Romeo & Juliet re-think.

Chris (Noah Huntly..sorry, Duncan Stuart [it’s just that he’s the dead spit]), an Oxford local, is likeable; a smart but inexperienced and naïve lad, he fills his days dogsbodying for an Oxford electrical firm, dreaming of the future. Back home, his Mom and Dad have split up and he manages to hold it together, doing his best to get on with both parents and looking forward to his time at Uni. Through a brush with a couple of odious toffs, he meets the feisty Jenny (Jessica Blake, in an exceptional debut), and his life turns upside down.

Jenny takes him out and shows him another world of pot-smoking and gigs, a slightly uncomfortable and spikey existence, with which he seems ill-equipped to deal.

During these early stages, there is a stiltedness that is perfectly natural, and a wonderfully well-staged examination of young romance. Gently, with no great revelation, we accept that Jenny is damaged, although the information she offers is carefully played down. There is no real detail; Blake plays it without whistles and bells, but simply flags it with neat precision.

They are victims of outside influences. Mean-sprited Piers (Dan Morgan), previously rejected by Jenny, manages to undermine Chris’s confidence, and his boss, Barry, a Walter Mitty character with uncertain links to a shady and violent past, acts as a conduit to a dark and disruptive history that threatens to explode into the present.

The links to Shakespeare’s romance are inescapable and the conclusion, foreshadowed in an arresting opening few moments, is swiftly and darkly engaged with. The Butterfly Tattoo isn’t perfect, but it is an admirable attempt at showing how young love flourishes and the power it can wield. An unknown cast, a soundtrack of unsigned bands and a scattering of unfashionable Oxford locations make this an interesting and thoughtful diversion. Director Hawkins has a future, certainly, but Jessica Blake may just need to get ready for something really quite stellar.

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