Hollow Reed

on April 18, 1997 by Susan Green
Given the way TV movies-of-the-week consistently trivialize social issues, it's remarkable that a cinematic view of child abuse can resist sensationalism. In "Hollow Reed," director Angela Pope ("Captives") manages to tell a restrained yet harrowing story about a child caught in the purgatory between divorced, warring parents and his mother's violence-prone boyfriend.
   Oliver (Sam Bould) is a small boy with enormous, soulful eyes and the bad luck to be on the losing end of a custody battle. His mom, Hannah ("101 Dalmatians'" Joely Richardson), is still bitter about the dissolution of her marriage to Martyn ("The Portrait of a Lady's" Martin Donovan), a doctor now in a monogamous gay relationship with Tom ("Land and Freedom's" Ian Hart). Hannah has rebounded into the loving arms of Frank (Jason Flemyng), whose hands are problematical: When no one else is around, he frequently beats Oliver for real or imagined transgressions. After Martyn begins to suspect the worst, the film evolves from thriller to courtroom drama, with Oliver too terrified to talk, Hannah seeking the easy road of denial and Jason proving himself very adept at deceit.
   Complex characters save Paula Milne's sometimes sketchy script. A Hal Hartley regular, Donovan has the appropriate intensity for a father battling to protect his son and overcome society's homophobia. Although somewhat on the sidelines here, Hart is always a compelling actor to watch; Richardson remains harder to read as a woman willing to ignore her maternal instincts to keep a man. In America, this is material that probably would have exploded in a Hollywood-style bloodbath. Under the skillful eye of Pope, who was less successful creating credibility for "Captives" in 1994 (released via Miramax last year), the film maintains a British reserve. Although this can be a bit of a mixed blessing at times, what might have turned maudlin in "Hollow Reed" is instead quite moving. Starring Martin Donovan, Joely Richardson, Ian Hart, Jason Flemyng and Sam Bould. Directed by Angela Pope. Written by Paula Milne. Produced by Nik Powell and Stephen Woolley. A CFP release. Drama. Unrated. Running time: 109 min. Screened at the Fort Lauderdale fest.
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