Veteran actress Kristin Scott Thomas revisits her childhood and uses it as the starting point of her lovely, touching and accomplished directorial debut, North Star, that premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival.
Scott Thomas’s father was a Royal Navy pilot who was lost in combat when she was six years old. Her step-father was also a Royal Navy pilot who experienced the same fate when she was twelve. This childhood loss is revisited and used to kick off the plot of North Star that sees the twice-widowed Diana gather her family for her third wedding to the opposite of a Royal Navy pilot – a caring and all-around nice man called Jeff. The family includes her three daughters – Katherine, a recently promoted Royal Officer Captain who has a son, Marcus, and shares her life and drama with Jack while trying to balance her personal and professional life; the famous Hollywood actress Victoria who also has a son, Skyler, and her own fair share of drama, trauma and a rather disastrous past love life, and finally Georgina, an NHS palliative care nurse with two daughters and a cheating husband; plus a collection of other quirky relations or friends and neighbors.
Scott Thomas deftly navigates between the two sides of the camera, switching roles seamlessly, and managing to create a charming family drama with a French touch and occasionally peppered with more serious moments reminiscent of A Marriage Story or other similar works. The tone is very much inspired by the works of her longtime collaborator, Richard Curtis, who she worked with on the 1994 rom com Four Weddings and a Funeral. This results in a light affair with delightful comedic moments and an important message that many of us tend to forget all too easily: don’t dwell on the Past, move on from your past self and nothing is ever as it seems. Scott Thomas brilliantly uses this wisdom to bookend her film and in doing so, skillfully delivers the final blow packed with emotional weight, albeit very expected indeed (which, in all honesty, does not diminish its power). This is, actually, the best and juiciest scene of the entire film and Scott Thomas delivers this monologue with her usual poise, subtlety and thoughtfulness.
Although the film explores issues of abandonment, the hold men have over women and the tricky relationships between siblings along with the personal plights of each character, that are in turn connected by the aforementioned explorations, Scott Thomas is smart enough to use it all in a manner that does not suffocate the narrative, but rather leaves her eldest daughter’s drawn flashbacks for the more serious matters. This does not make it any less profound, but is an easier way to let the audience process their own identifications with parts of the story.
North Star boasts an array of effervescent performances by the cast, especially the three leading ladies, who all deliver masterful turns and to whom Scott Thomas, the true “North Star,” leaves the floor – or better said, the screen – to. The film’s essence is the siblings’ emotionally complex dynamics that potently reflect their unspoken yet existing affection and it is a treat to watch.
All techs are on point, from Andrew McAlpine’s inviting production design – that idyllic house in the English countryside with rooms with botanical wallpapers and vibrant colors is just to die for and makes for a lived-in atmosphere – the costumes, courtesy of Sinéad Kidao match the house and the ambiance perfectly while Yves Bélanger’s somewhat crisp lensing, even in stark contrast with the aforementioned warmth, and a typically British score by Rolfe Kent, elevate the film and add an extra layer of airiness, making us want to step into that world and overstay our welcome.
North Star is a gentle, smart and heart-warming debut by a star who should’ve taken on the role of director a long time ago. A poignant tribute to her fathers, it is a shining example of personal storytelling. Welcome to the directing firmament, Kristin Scott Thomas!
Production: Finola Dwyer Productions, Ridlington Road Pictures (UK 2023). Producers: Finola Dwyer, Steven Rales. Executive Producer: Caroline Levy. Director: Kristin Scott Thomas. Screenplay: Kristin Scott Thomas, John Micklethwait. Cinematography: Yves Bélanger. Costume Design: Sinéad Kidao. Production Design: Andrew McAlpine. Score: Rolfe Kent. Editing: Joan Sobel.
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas (Diana), Scarlett Johansson (Katherine), Sienna Miller (Victoria), Emily Beecham (Georgina), Freida Pinto (Jack), James Fleet (Jeff), Thibault de Montalembert (Le Grand Fromage)
Color – 95 min. Premiere: 7-IX-2023 (Toronto International Film Festival)
Photo credits: Courtesy of TIFF.