My First Summer
Written and Directed by Katie Found
Starring: Markella Kavenagh and Mariah Stewardson
BFI Flare 2021, see more of our coverage here: Jump, Darling, The Greenhouse
A tragedy occurs
Claudia has been kept isolated by her mother. She homeschooled Claudia and taught her to fear other people and the world outside their home. However, Claudia’s mother is suffering, she drowns herself in a nearby reservoir leaving Claudia alone. However, this little world is soon turned upside down by the arrival of Grace. Grace is confident and free-spirited, and she throws everything Claudia has been taught into question.
A meeting of the opposites
Grace appears in Claudia’s world like a tornado. She is so colourful to Claudia’s muted tones and where Claudia is shy and awkward, Grave is confident and brash. They compliment one another perfectly. The dynamics between the two are so sweet and tender. Grace finds something she has been desperately lacking in her own home life, she feels wanted and needed by Claudia. The performances from both actresses really encaptured what it is like to be a teenage girl.
There’s an underlying sadness to Grace. In certain scenes, we see a less than peaceful homelife. Her and her mother consistently yelling at one another, and this wariness we feel towards her mum’s boyfriend. He seems to lurk on the edges, regarding her with a look that isn’t fatherly. Grace reassures Claudia that ‘No one would come looking for her, no one would miss her’ and that they were safe.
But that line delivered with such a blasé attitude strikes deeper. Grace is a girl needed something that is just hers, needing to feel wanted. In Claudia, she finds that and so much more, she finds someone who is totally in awe of her.
Strong performances in My First Summer
Markella is showstopping in My First Summer, she plays Claudia with such quiet, complex precision. I was completely immersed in the story these characters were telling, just waiting and dreading the day they are inevitably discovered. They are enjoying borrowed time, there are suspicions that there is a girl living in this little house. No matter how well her mother tried to hide her away, nothing lasts forever.
A film about love
My First Summer, aside from being about loss and grief, is a film about love. These are two characters who are falling in love during long hazy summer days. It’s about the joy of falling in love, whilst still handling some pretty intense themes. It is a joy to see two characters learning about themselves, through love and not drama. I liked that the realisations don’t come with self-doubt or fear, just that excitement and happiness of finding that special someone.
Summer can’t last forever
One thing in life is certain, summer can’t last forever. Eventually, this sanctuary, this little bubble the girls have created bursts. Our characters are forced to face real life, though they are about to be separated and who knows what the future holds, the film ends on a hopeful rather than a sad one.
I think audiences watching My First Summer will wish they’d been able to see it sooner. It is a film, that whilst handling very real themes of suicide, mental health and loss, still feels hopeful. Watching these girls, you’d agree they’ll be able to survive anything, as long as they have one another.
We watched My First Summer as part of our BFI Flare coverage, see more of our coverage here: Jump, Darling, The Greenhouse
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