The Hide is the first feature film by Marek Losey, previously an award-winning director of commercials. It's not what you'd expect from someone who worked on high-profile campaigns for Cadburys, Diesel and Coca Cola. A brilliantly balanced, understated drama, The Hide is a prize of a film.
The opening 30 minutes are slow-moving but excellently executed. Then we get to the meat of the matter. The initial set-up and the small-scale set allow for detailed character development, and the preparation pays off - none of the following shocking revelations would work without it.
The characters and deadpan dialogue make it feel, at first, like a 'Fast Show' sketch, or a well-honed improvisation, with Alex MacQueen so exact in his role as fusty, uptight bird twitcher Roy Tunt that he plays out every cliche of the type. Phil Campbell's Dave appears at first to be a stereotypical shifty, suspicious young man. Yet The Hide is all about subverting our expectations - of the director, of the characters, of British films as a whole. The grandson of an acclaimed director and son of a successful producer, Marek Losey must know a lot about expectations.
The two men meet in a birdwatchers' hide in the bleak setting of the Isle of Sheppey. Ostensibly twitcher Roy is looking to complete his bird spotting book with a sighting of the Sociable Plover. He's waiting with binoculars, a flask of Bovril, paste sandwiches and a framed photo of his ex-wife. Dave crashes in, frantic and aggressive, and the two get to know each other over the course of the next hour.
It's the sort of film with an impact that will be impaired by even the barest description of the narrative. We discover Roy has been recently made redundant after a lifetime serving a chicken processing company, but even that's saying a little too much as it is a detail much of the drama turns on. That you even know there will be revelations is a spoiler. As 'Guardian' film critic Philip French observed after the Dinard Festival screening, this film is "Pinteresque".
George Richmond's cinematography helps Losey to sidestep any staginess. The play's minimal setting is added to by shots of the flat expanse of the Sheppey landscape. They lend gravity to dialogue that unlike Pinter's work does not easily throw up universalities, dealing mostly in the minutely personal. Shots of crows on the marsh flag up more foreboding and increase the tension.
Alex MacQueen played Roy in the stage production, and it's his and Phil Campbell's performance of the well-observed dialogue that sets up a solid enough premise to withstand the wildest changes of pace. Every time you think you've got The Hide pegged, and marked it down as one of those small British films, it twists out of reach.