Lying somewhere between an Afterschool Special and Kramer vs. Kramer, the British made Hollow Reed explores child abuse and homophobia pretty effectively. The film is so issue-oriented that it would never play to a large-scale movie audience, and isn't meant to. It might play on television if it cut out one sexually suggestive scene, but the pervasive homophobia issue would be too uncomfortable for mainstream audiences.
Thus, it finds its niche on DVD and has found some play at gay film festivals that are often starving for decent film fare. In the film Dr. Martyn Wyatt (Martin Donovan) and Hannah Wyatt (Joely Richardson) have split after Martyn reveals his homosexuality and takes up with his lover Tom Dixon (Ian Hart). Complicating matters, Martyn now suspects their young son, Oliver (Sam Bould), is being beaten and abused by Hannah's live-in boyfriend Frank (Jason Flemyng).
But how to find definitive proof when Oliver is too scared to speak out—he claims that some unknown boys beat him up or that a car door crushed his hand. And how will the courts regard Martyn’s alternative lifestyle with his male partner? Even though Martyn is a respected physician in the community, thoughts of what he does with his male lover in the privacy of their bedroom is too horrible for some citizens to contemplate.
Whenever you want to explore issues like this, it’s fairly easy for a film to do so in a courtroom setting where the witnesses can dramatically verbalize in a “natural” setting to get their points across. Hollow Reed deals with the expected homophobic reactions rather well in this legal setting, but fortunately most of the film takes place outside of the courtroom.
Much of the narrative is poignantly shot through the child’s point of view, so the camera follows pitiful and melancholy Oliver as he hides from his tormentor and sends his mirror-laden Star Wars toys out in the hallway to spy on his mother and boyfriend. Initially the camera is much like Oliver—running along the streets to his father’s house but refusing to reveal how the injuries had taken place. But by following Oliver closely into his hiding places, we sense his fears, which are soon confirmed.
This results in seeing the “enemy” as one-dimensional, so we are soon convinced of Frank’s “assholedness” in the melodrama. Indeed his attempts at balancing his character with feelings of loneliness and vulnerability by crying whenever Hannah kicks him out of the house only makes us want to hiss and boo.
But don’t fret. There will be cheers as well. The bad guy doesn’t win the day, so one-dimensional characters don’t dominate the entire film.
Donovan effectively portrays the concerned father, who would do what most normal fathers would do to protect their sons, but Richardson turns in the most impressive performance as the conflicted mother that will remind people of Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer. This results from a striking resemblance to Streep, plus her eyes communicate her emotional state similarly. Richardson just doesn't cry as much as Meryl.
Richardson’s best moments come when she vacillates between taking on the protective mother role, yielding to her own emotional needs (can she deal with the idea that she’s chosen another “wrong” man), or giving in to the manipulative boyfriend when he begs forgiveness.
Overall, Angela Pope’s Hollow Reed stands as a competent drama that approaches homophobic attitudes very directly. The eventual outcome is hardly surprising, but the resolution makes it suitable for a British After School Special—they seem to be a tad more daring across the pond when it comes to sexual matters. Don’t expect to see this film in the States, but it's worth checking out as a rental sometime.