Directed by James Rouse
Starring Ned Dennehy, Karl Theobald, Richard Lumsden and Jeremy Swift
In UK Cinemas May 30th, 2014

On Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms on June 2nd, 2014

by Susanna Jones

We all have friends, we all grow old and at some point we all strip off and jump into a stream somewhere in the Lake District. We also all have one drink too many and vomit on a car outside a pub in St Bees.

Most people’s friends aren’t glamorous, wild or beautiful, despite what films like The Hangover would have us believe. For all the bluster of big-budget Hollywood, Downhill finds great success by doing something far more difficult: making the mundane beautiful.

The film follows four old friends on their 192mile jaunt from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire, unofficially known as the Coast to Coast Walk. Downhill follows the well-trodden route of the ‘journey’ movie, with the ups and downs of the rolling countryside acting as a metaphor for the characters own struggles.

Yet there is something pleasingly redemptive about this beautifully shot and wonderfully acted movie. Ned Dennehy’s turn as Julian the pompous, obnoxious clown is brilliant – he is a flurry of misplaced anger and affection, fueled constantly by lugubrious quantities of alcohol.

Each character is, in his own way, an Everyman. The viewer, the voyeur, is clearly meant to see something of themselves or someone they know in one of Julian, Keith, Steve or Gordon. At times it seems deliberate, but there is reliable charm to this film and its protagonists.

Keith, the man who springs the biggest surprise of the film, is played superbly by Karl Theobold. In amongst the pratfalls and pints of ale his storyline is a superbly managed change of pace, bringing much needed balance to proceedings. Gordon and Steve complete the set as the straight man and awkward misfit. There are also two intriguing cameos from two far younger women, giving the plot a much-needed jolt and change of pace.

Stumbling between creaking village pubs and dusty B&Bs, Downhill is mostly about nostalgia. The timeless countryside of the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors are a stunning backdrop to proceedings.

Oddly, despite being a broadly conventional romp about old friends, everything in this film is seen through the eyes – or rather lens – of Gordon’s son. At the very outset of the film we are made aware of a fifth character, Luke. The old friends, with no sense of pretense, have arranged for his unblinking lens to follow their every move.

While this works well, some of the films other ideas are more prosaic. The soundtrack, a mediocre procession of acoustic guitar starts to make your teeth ache at times, while for no good reason the film is split up into a series of named chapters, complete with jaunty cartoon introductions. Not only does it disrupt the flow of the film, but it also cheapens its message.

This is a film about friends, nostalgia, countryside and ale. And as the credits roll it is unthinkable that some in the audience won’t feel compelled to pick up the phone and get back in touch with old friends.

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