Not since John Nettles cruised around St Helier in a vintage Triumph Roadster has there been so much filming in the Channel Islands.
Jersey-set TV detective series Bergerac finished in 1991 but now the island’s back on the screen map in Michael Pearce’s atmospheric debut film, Beast.
It’s set on contemporary Jersey, making use of its coast, cliffs and fields, and its cosy housing enclaves. Pearce takes full advantage of Jersey’s landscape and folklore to create an eerie, atmospheric and sexy thriller.
Pearce is a Jersey native (does that sound like some kind of oyster?) and brings a strong sense of place into the film. It stars the excellent Jessie Buckley as Moll and singer/actor Johnny Flynn as Pascal Renouf, a charismatic handyman and poacher linked by local police to the unsolved disappearances of a number of women.
Moll is in her mid-20s and still lives with her well-to-do family and her Mum (a formidable Geraldine James) runs the church choir but Moll’s sudden feelings for rough-hewn Pascal lead her into a dangerous love affair that outrages her mother and infuriates the local police detective who’s fancied Moll for years.
Pearce uses what feels like a love/hate relationship with Jersey to fan the film’s many tensions, a drama heightened by the dramatic cliffs, wide beaches, pine trees, potato fields and shimmering patches of green. Helping display the island is Moll’s almost comical job as a historical guide, with a uniform, a little hat and a bus-load of tourists.
Beast is a wild, intriguing tale, with real moments of shock and excitement. Buckley, who’s excelling in The Woman in White on the telly at the moment, is terrific as this unreadable young woman caught in a storm of her own awakening emotions and Flynn proves a mercurial presence, while the Jersey backdrop makes exotic viewing for a British film, with a flavour of continental beauty and a smattering of foreboding, the sort you get in Scandi noir or the films of Bruno Dumont.
The title, Beast, might refer to the real-life serial killer The Beast of Jersey who terrified the island for years in the 1960s (google him, it’s awfully weird), or it could be about Moll’s own turmoil, or the dodgy, roll-up smoking Pascal. I’m not sure we ever find out but you’ll be talking about it long after you leave the cinema. And, rather perversely, you might even fancy the place for a quick holiday.