Submarine (UK/USA)

2010 UK/USA

SUNDAY 14th OCTOBER 10.00 am
TUESDAY 16th OCTOBER 8.00 pm


A legend in his own lunchtime, 15 year old Welsh schoolboy Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is in reality socially inept and unpopular. Oliver has set himself two tasks for the summer: to lose his virginity (before it becomes legal) and save his parents’ marriage. Suspecting his mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) is having an affair with old flame, Graham (Paddy Considine), a self devoted new-age evangelist, Oliver monitors his parents’ sex-life by charting their bedroom dimmer switch. To bolster his endeavours, he forges a love letter from his father to his mother. Meanwhile Oliver tries to woo schoolmate Jordana (Yasmin Paige). When a calculated attempt at bullying earns him Jordana’s affections, she introduces him to the thrills of pyromania and dictates to him what he should be writing about her in his diary.


Richard Ayoade’s debut feature about the inner turmoil of an adolescent brings a fresh, appealing voice to a subject that’s as old as time. Adapted from Joe Dunthorne’s novel, the strength of the film is its unique slant and quirky tone that allows us to become familiar with every little thing about Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a gawky 15 year old schoolboy intent on getting a girlfriend, losing his virginity and saving his parents’ floundering marriage. The humour ripples along subtly, like an ambling brook rather than a gushing river: the smiles are inward.

A voice over narration acts as Oliver’s inner voice, alerting us immediately to the fact he likes his own company, reads the dictionary as a pastime and often imagines his life as a dislocated reality playing as a film before his eyes. His family life is hardly conducive to normal conversation: his parents barely speak to each other. His mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) is neurotic and his marine biologist father Lloyd (Noah Taylor) is a border-line manic depressive, who knows things like how deep is the ocean and feels as though he is underwater most of the time, a feeling to which Oliver begins to relate.

Split into three parts plus an epilogue, the first section canvasses Oliver’s burgeoning relationship with classmate Jordana Bevin (Yasmin), whose eczema is a result of an allergy to her dog and whose mother has a brain tumour. The relationship begins when Jordana tells the wide-eyed Oliver to bring a Polaroid camera and a diary to a spot under the bridge, where the trains flash past noisily and their kiss can be recorded without being disturbed. Thursday night, when his parents go to the movies, is ideal for the planned seduction, but things never go according to plan.

Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine), the long-haired psychic who has moved in next door and was Jill’s former lover, is the subject of the film’s second section. Jill and Lloyd’s dysfunctional relationship is perceived from Oliver’s point of view, listening to their phone conversations, lingering in doorways to overhear what is being said and, above all, keeping an eye on the setting of the bedroom dimmer, being an indicator of whether intimacy is on the cards.

All the relationships are awkward. Oliver has no idea how to deal with Jordana and although he disregards his school friends’ advice to ‘treat ’em mean and keep ’em keen’, cannot handle her one emotional request. Performances are ace with Craig Roberts terrific as the protagonist and Jordana Bevin as his dreamgirl. Taylor and Hawkins leave a strong impression in small but important roles, with Considine suitably weird.

The exposition of the relationships occurs in the third section, descriptively titled Showdown and symbolically held on New Year’s Eve with ends tidied up in the epilogue. Set in chilly Wales by the sea, this is a gently stirring and quaintly amusing coming of age film that takes us to the depths before allowing us to find our way to the surface.


Going gangbusters to adapt the screenplay from the novel without leaving a hint of its literary origins, Richard Ayoade fills this coming of age story with as much texture by way of devices as he can muster. There are montages of still and moving images, visualisations of thoughts and dreams, chapter cards and shots that are meant to resonate with their stillness. It’s a visual medium, let’s get visual.

But with all this stuff, all loaded onto a story that is narrated in the first person by our young anti-hero, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), the film is weighed down, not enlightened. Still, there are some lovely touches, like the deadpan weirdness of his parents, hilarious performances in a muted sort of way from Noah Taylor and Sally Hawkins.

The story finds its emotional arc at the very end, but getting there is sometimes a tedious affair. Oliver is self consciously and morbidly inept; like so many teenagers in movies that try to define the unmarked path to the future, his scrambling attempt is painful to watch. The pivot is meant to be his personality, hidden beneath his clunky outer shell. This isn’t entirely original, but Ayoade does freshen it up with a quaint tilt to the film’s mood.

Yasmin Paige is suitably humdrum as the target of Oliver’s attentions as if to drive home the irony of young men falling for a girl at the moment of raging hormones and zero experience. Paddy Consadine is his usual wacky but edgy self as the mystic who is so good at fooling others about his ability to manage ‘light’ that he even fools himself.

Many of the film’s scenes play like interstitials in a TV program, filling time without really adding story elements or emotional weight.

The best thing about Submarine is the flashes of originality in the screenplay that accumulate to give us a sense of uncertainty about all the characters, and some snapshots into a young man whose ability to understand his maturing emotions is as patchy as was our own.