Nocturnal review: a stripped-down portrait of British coastal malaise

Nathalie Biancheri’s vivid blue-collar romance is a boxed-in tale of frustrated desires, not to mention another showcase of Cosmo Jarvis’s talents.

Nocturnal (2020)

Nocturnal is available in UK cinemas and on select VoD services including BFI Player and Curzon Home Cinema.

When thirty-something handyman Pete (Cosmo Jarvis) starts paying attention to teenager Laurie (Lauren Coe) from a distance, Nocturnal spends some time presenting the audience with the back of Pete’s head, leaving open the question of exactly which desires might be passing across the front.

When he begins following her, the disparity in build suggests the big man might snap her like a twig, although as in Lady Macbeth (2016), Jarvis carries his imposing frame lightly, a bashful brawler. But when the pair actually meet, she’s the chatty charismatic one, making flinty jokes about winding up on Crimewatch if she gets into his car, while he seems to lose his bearings.

The reason why sporty Laurie – a runner, that established metaphor for simmering frustrations – and the saturnine Pete might seek out each other’s company is not hard to divine before it gets spelled out, even if the film doesn’t have room to tell her story in the same detail as his.

Nocturnal (2020)

Pete’s solitary life of honest toil in-between chatting up local ladies seems to have gained him the respect of most people but no close friendships, while Jarvis’s vocal control (not surprising; apart from his accent work in Calm with Horses (2020), the actor has a previous singing career) catches the woe of a man suddenly forced to say unsayable things. Trying to inform Laurie of something traumatic, his arms work when his mouth does not, regret rumbling up from his boots.

Nathalie Biancheri directs through an aspect ratio cut down to a square, and declines being lured into a desaturated colour-wash as a sign of supposed kitchen-sink authenticity. Instead Nocturnal picks out the sharp colourful glare of amusement arcades and shop fronts illuminated at dusk.

One conversation between Pete and Laurie plays out in audio against shots of heavy industry, cooling towers soaked in sodium yellow and pillars of steam rising. The industrial landscape that the characters have arisen from looms over them both.

No outside political forces materialise in the story itself to cause Pete’s strife, other than the commonplace one: economically enforced bootstrapping of urban life at the other end of the country from the capital. Pete and Laurie meet because her mother has been forced to return to her home town; Pete is only there because he never managed to leave at all. Blue-collar families cycling through rupture and repair, working-class roots hanging on in thin soil.