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Film Review: X & Y and Takeover Festival

Posted on 01st March 2015 |

Just Don't Try To Persuade Me To Like Maths

It's difficult to persuade me to watch a sad film. When I see movie posters proudly proclaiming that 'This film will cause you to become a weeping mess and ensure that you are unable to leave the house for the next week etc.' I usually try to persuade my, more trauma-loving, companion to go and see something else. So it's a good thing that X+Y is advertised as a comedy, or I would have gone into the cinema convinced that I wasn't going to like it and so ruined a good movie for myself.

Don't get me wrong, it is a comedy - a very funny comedy in parts - but if the person I was sitting beside hadn't been a complete stranger I would have been sobbing on their shoulder for most of the screening.

The film follows the story of Nathan (Asa Butterfield) a teenager with, amongst other things, only one parent, autism and a genius for maths. Within five minutes Nathan's dad (Martin McCann) is killed in a car crash with his seven-year-old son beside him in the passenger seat, at which point I settled down to spend the next two hours being emotionally distraught. And emotionally distraught I was, given that Nathan keeps having flashbacks both to the car accident and the time when his, much loved, father was alive (if you go to see this bring a pack of tissues, seriously). But things started to look brighter with the introduction of Mr. Harrison (Rafe Spall), a secondary school maths teacher and former child prodigy who agrees to tutor the young Nathan. He is a terrible teacher but more than makes up for it by being incredibly funny.


The basic plot thus established we skip forwards several years to when a teenage Nathan is trying to get a place on the UK team for the International Maths Olympiad. He and the other hopefuls fly out to Taiwan to train and various mishaps ensue. I shan't go into details about the plot from now on because I know only too well the feeling of wanting to throw things out the window when someone ruins a movie you were hoping to go and see. However, I will say that both Butterfield and Spall give fabulous performances throughout - helped, especially in Spall's case, by a fabulous script.

About half way through the film I suddenly remembered that Nathan was not being played by an autistic actor (I know that's an incredibly stupid thing not to have realised before but I can be very slow when the mood takes me). From that point on I was struck by how good Butterfield is - his speech; his movement; his entire demeanor.

If Nathan makes you cry more often than he makes you laugh, with Harrison the opposite is true. He has his own sob story (did I say to bring a pack of tissues? Better make it a box) but he is undoubtedly the comedian if the piece. He is uncouth and not cut out to be a teacher but he will make everyone laugh, both in the audience and on the screen (except Nathan; Nathan doesn't really get humour.) He is also one half of a very sweet love-story - which, in the time I wasn't laughing/crying/a-weird-combination-of-the-two-ing, had me wanting to yell 'Oh my goodness; yes!'.

Lay in a supply of tissues, and do your best to avoid shouting at the screen, but go and see X+Y. It is touching, it is funny and, speaking as someone who is always reluctant to give up any time they could be sleeping in, it is two hours very well spent.


A Very Short Interview

After the screening of X+Y (the Northern Ireland Premier, no less) I was lucky enough to have a brief chat with the director Morgan Matthews and one of the actors Martin McCann.Matthews is a documentary director and X+Y is the first drama he's directed; he is a BAFTA award winning director and the founder of Minnow Films (a company which makes documentaries). McCann is a Northern Irish actor (whose Belfast accent, surrounded by a sea of English ones, appealed to all the locals at the screening) who has worked in films directed and produced by the likes of Richard Attenborough, Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg.Owing to my naïve assumption that I'd be able to write as quickly as they spoke and so didn't need to record anything, the following is not in their exact words but the gist is, I hope, still there.

Martin McCann:

Q: You've worked in films directed and produced by some very famous people; who did you most enjoy working with and why?

A: Morgan Matthews, because he's sitting beside me! No, seriously; Richard Attenborough - I was in one of his films in 2006 or 2007. I come from a theatre background but he was making a film in Belfast and was kind enough to give me a big role. He was a really nice guy and a master craftsman. And he gave me my first big break, which is so important to an actor.

Q: What advice do you have for young people hoping to pursue a career in acting, especially those living in Northern Ireland?

A: You need to take it up as a hobby to start with and keep an eye out for local bodies to join - like Cinemagic and Rainbow Factory. Find some like-minded friends and try to get up little plays, or films, or whatever. Also, remember that acting is a lifestyle, you can't separate it from the rest of your life - though don't do it all the time, obviously; it should be fun.

Morgan Matthews:

Q: What made you want to become a director?

A: Good question; I think it's something that's just in you - you can't help it. When you go into making movies there are lots jobs you've got to go through; starting in junior roles and working your way up to senior ones. Director is a senior job but I wasn't very good at the junior ones so I skipped to directing! It's a very creative profession and one where you get to be in control, which I like - I always found it hard to work for other people. It means you have more freedom and you can work on things you really believe in. I never thought I could direct feature films though; documentaries always seemed easier. I was very fortunate that when I was starting out you could get very good digital cameras for not too much money; it's even easier now with things like iPhones.

Q: What's your favourite part of your job?

A: I don't really have one - I'm not very good at favourites; favourite meal, favourite colour, or anything. My favourite bit of the job changes all the time; it's all exciting! Working with James Graham (the writer of X+Y) made the scripting fun, working with the actors made the shooting fun (it's the most intense part of the process but it's still a very creative part) and working with great composers or editors always makes the edit fun too. They say that there are three movies within every film; the one you shoot, the one you direct and the one you edit, which is true but each one is brilliant and very creative.

Takeover Film Festival:

'Take Us To Your Leader'

On the weekend of the 20th of February, Queen's Film Theatre was invaded. Not by little green men (although that would have been pretty exciting) but by by a panel of youth - The QFT Youth Takeover Panel. They chose all the weekend's films and activities - feature films, shorts, music and masterclasses.In my capacity of another youth who likes film, I was sent along to see some of what had been laid on. I was wowed by some fabulous films; slightly confused by a masterclass that was aimed at people with a far greater knowledge of animation than me; and accidentally wandered into a live music session.I loved the films - really loved them. The animation masterclass would, I can quite see, have been very interesting for anyone who knew where on a computer you actually find Photoshop (I haven't the foggiest where that might be - looking up pictures of cats is more my style than anything that requires actual skill). The music I literally just wandered into, without really knowing what was going on - everyone else seemed to be really enjoying it though.

Reviews and Q&A by Dorothy McDowell, Cinemagic Young Film Critic who attended the screening of X&Y as part of the Takeover Film Festival at Queen's Film Theatre.

Cinemagic Patrons

  • Liam Neeson
  • Pierce Brosnan
  • Dermot O‚ÄôLeary
  • Terry George
  • Brian Cox
  • Lisa Henson
  • Suranne Jones
  • Julian Fellowes
  • Christine Bleakley
  • Seamus McGarvey
  • Ciaran McMenamin
  • Colin Farrell
  • Patrick Bergin
  • Ros Hubbard
  • John Hubbard
  • Gary Knell
  • Rachel Kavanagh
  • Aidan Power
  • Mark Huffam
  • Saoirse Ronan
  • Craig Doyle
  • Robbie Sheehan
  • Bruce Reynolds
  • Marc Mallett
  • Bronagh Waugh