Film thrillers have stiff competition these days. When you can watch really great box sets with ten or 15 episodes on All 4 or Netflix, trying to cram a convincing story into an hour and a half is a tough commission.
It’s a bit like that advert on TV where a couple meet, get married, split up and divvy up their CD collection in 30 seconds flat. Not too much scope for nuance.
That said, Beast has much to recommend it. The central character Moll, played by Jessie Buckley, is completely engaging and you want to find out more about her.
I was won over immediately when I saw she worked as a coach tour courier, the very job I coveted as a child. But even if your ambitions were loftier than mine, it’s hard not to fall for Moll.
Faced with an appallingly controlling mother (a very convincing Geraldine James) and a sister who conspires to upstage even her own birthday party, Moll strikes out on her own to pursue a relationship that clearly brings much-needed joy and passion into her life.
While her family are trapped by the stultifying decorum of the Jersey middle classes, Moll blows off lunch at the golf club for something more visceral with local bad-boy Pascal Renouf.
He’s the sort of man her mother despises. He tramps mud on the carpet and talks with his mouth full. He’s capable and lustful and sensuous, everything her family are not.
Both Moll and Pascal keep you off kilter. The story is told from Moll’s perspective, but she challenges us to understand her. The first time we meet Pascal he is toting a rifle but he clearly loves the island and is nobody’s fool.
Setting the film on Jersey serves to highlight the contrast between wild, natural beauty and dark underbelly.
It also highlights the class divisions that lie beneath an ostensibly comfortable community. Who your family is matters on Jersey and there is little pretence of egalitarianism.
So it’s perhaps not surprising that in real life Jersey’s complicated tax status made it financially prohibitive to film much of production in situ. Surrey was chosen instead to provide a suitably prim and proper alternative to Jersey’s middle class aesthetic.
Jersey’s dark side is referenced in the title of the film. The Beast of Jersey was a notorious sex offender who terrorised the island from 1960 to 1971. And more recently, the revelations about abuse at Haut de la Garenne children’s home, where many children were raped and assaulted, are still fresh.
With this in mind, Beast perhaps relies on a traditional narrative more than it needs to. Moll is not your archetypal victim, yet the women still largely exist in relation to men in the film. But this is not peculiar to Beast. It’s a wider problem in the roles women are given.
The film is strong enough to make us ask questions. The plot twists enough to keep us interested. It’s worth seeing for the performances of the two main characters alone. I just hope you’re not too sentimental about rabbits.