Bare-knuckle fights arranged by grown men for other grown men to bet on, with 11 year old boys as the participants; orgies involving men and women of all shapes and sizes; a stripper called Hole. We're not in Hobbiton now . . .
The Principles Of Lust is the first feature from writer/director Penny Woolcock, best known to date for her brilliant Channel Four drama Tina Goes Shopping and its follow-up Tina Takes A Break, and more recently her acclaimed adaptation of the John Adams opera The Death Of Klinghoffer.
The film centres around Paul (Alec Newman), an out of work writer whose days of unemployment start to drift aimlessly into each other. That is until two separate encounters change the course of his life completely. The first is with Rankin-like bad boy Billy (Marc Warren), a successful photographer who is bordering on the psychotic and whose constant pursuit of thrills on the seedier side of life knows no bounds. The other encounter is with single mother Juliette (Sienna Guillory), who Paul is instantly attracted to and starts a passionate affair with. As this new relationship starts to bring some structure into his life, Paul finds himself involved in a power struggle between the stability of family life offered by Juliette and her son Harry, and Billy, whose demands on Paul become ever more extreme, testing just how far Paul will allow himself to be drawn into Billy's world. As family life slowly begins to seem stale and uninspiring to Paul, Billy's way of life and the danger it holds becomes all the more attractive.
The Principles Of Lust is an extremely powerful, original and at times disturbing film, full of striking imagery, and centred around some well balanced performances that help to keep the at times outrageous Ballard-esque storyline within the bounds of believability.
Marc Warren is brilliant, giving a very watchable performance as the charismatically debauched Billy, as does Sienna Guillory as the passionate yet grounded Juliette. The film's best performance though is given by Alec Newman who, as a character torn between the two extremes of his new life, is presented with the toughest job of giving a performance full of light and dark whilst still allowing the individuality of his character to remain consistent, a task that Newman pulls off admirably.
As she did with the Tina dramas, Woolcock also used non-actors to play most of the supporting roles, something which - as with the Tina dramas - works really well, lending as it does another layer of believability to the story, which helps to make the film's more powerful scenes all the more shocking.
As a first feature, The Principles Of Lust bodes extremely well for the future, and Woolcock is to be commended for pushing the envelope a considerable amount with her debut film. Whilst it does have one or two slightly over-theatrical moments, this is a brave, well-made offering that, if you can stomach it, is well worth the effort.
:: Philip Goodfellow