2020 has been a rollercoaster year, both in and out of the film industry. Whilst it is all too easy to focus on the list of negatives, there has been a silver-lining with cinemas across the world shutting their doors. Films that would otherwise be cast aside by the public in favour of Disney-produced blockbusters have been given a chance to gain some viewers and recognition on streaming services and online festivals, which of course meant we could recognise more writing talent on display.
To kickstart a new year for Between the Lines, I wanted to talk about five films that stood out to me purely on their story and writing aspects. Yes, direction, acting and countless other filmmaking aspects help tell the story on screen but I want to give credit to the writers here for their ingenious story structure, engaging characters and clever premises. We were lucky to have so many great stories to experience on screens large and small, and we can only hope for more this year.
Written by Bong Joon Ho and Jin-won Han
Let’s get the obvious choice out of the way. I’ve already discussed the screenplay in length in a previous article, but I had to include the Best Original Screenplay Oscar winner in this list. What starts out as an entertaining inverted heist, as a poverty-stricken family aim to infiltrate a wealthy family’s home, becomes so much more in one of the best midpoint plot twists ever written. It’s incredible how the writers here juggle so many genres – injecting comedy, drama, suspense, and horror – whilst consistently threading through the narrative themes of class and social inequality.
Rose: A Love Story
Written by Matt Stokoe
A welcome surprise at London Film Festival, this original romantic horror sees a married couple living out their lives in snow-filled woods away from society, as the titular Rose (Sophie Rundle) has a mysterious, and violent, illness. It is a bleak and often too-real exploration of chronic illnesses but the relationship between the couple is so engaging and full of hope. Conflict arises from the tough choices and sacrifices the characters have to make, but it is all out of love and a need to be together. For a setting so cold and dark, this will warm your heart… before the ending rips it right out.
Written by Natalie Erika James and Christian White
Relic is just one alongside a slew of notable films released last year that explored Dementia in some way. What makes Relic standout however is how it uses horror tropes and conventions in a meaningful way to get across just how horrific a disease Dementia is, along with the existential inevitability of growing old. The most terrifying sequences come from the moments where the grandmother (Robyn Nevin) displays uncharacteristic behaviours because of her illness. Using three generations – grandmother, mother and daughter – as the core cast is a clever decision that reinforces the terrifying narrative theme the story explores.
Written by Chinonye Chukwu
This devastating but powerful story focuses on a prison warden, Bernadine Williams (Alfre Woodard), who oversees death row executions. Chukwu’s extensive research into the topic, inspired by the real-life execution of Troy Davis, can be seen in every moment as the impact of capital punishment effects the entire cast of characters in subtle but affecting ways. Almost the entire narrative unfolds through Bernadine’s eyes, giving us a detailed viewpoint rarely explored in prison dramas and a captivating character study.
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Written by Simon Blackwell and Armando Iannucci
A clever adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic book that respects the original work whilst condensing the 624-page mammoth into an entertaining two-hour screenplay. What is most joyous is the creativity on display and seeing Blackwell and Iannucci lean into the charming and whimsical elements of the story. The writers’ effortlessly show us the world through Copperfield’s (Dev Patel) imaginative viewpoint- bleeding together a theatre audience into a scene, framing sequences as a child’s play set – which makes the protagonist likeable and the story wildly entertaining.