'Hollow Reed': Straight Dad vs. Gay Dad in Overbaked Family Drama

Hollow Reed by Angela PopeHollow Reed, the tale of a little boy loved by his gay father and abused by his heterosexual stepfather, was the winner of the Audience Award at the 1996 Dinard British Film Festival.

That shouldn't be surprising. After all, director Angela Pope and screenwriter Paula Milne squeeze every possible dramatic element the story could offer, from relentless close-ups of young actor Sam Bould's soulful face to a climactic bloody fight between the film's warring dads. Most audiences love that.

Personally, I believe that approach is perfectly fine as long as the filmmakers don't take themselves too seriously and we're transposed into the realm of camp, or the overall acting turns the melodrama into tragedy – Richard Eyre's otherwise silly Notes on a Scandal, for instance, is saved by Judi Dench's and Cate Blanchett's performances. Unfortunately, neither option applies to Hollow Reed.

Angela Pope and Paula Milne take their message very seriously: kind-hearted gay parents are better than psychotic straight ones. Unless you belong to the latter group, you'll surely agree with them. That said, a little subtlety could have gone a long way into making this tale of child abuse and anti-gay bigotry into something more than a politically correct indictment of the British judicial system.

In other words, for the gay couple (Martin Donovan and Ian Hart) to look good, not only do they have to be loving, conscientious, and monogamous, but the straight couple must be portrayed as utterly despicable – stepdad (Jason Flemyng) is a foaming-at-the-mouth monster; mom (Joely Richardson), initially oblivious to the violence in her own home, eventually becomes a tacit accomplice to it.

Not helping matters is a courthouse sequence that is supposed to show the British justice system's discriminatory practices, but in which just about every cast member is guilty as charged of overacting. Annette Badland, as Gay Dad's coolly composed barrister, is the one exception. Had there been any justice, she's the one who should have walked away with the kid.

Hollow Reed (1996). Dir.: Angela Pope. Scr.: Paula Milne. Cast: Martin Donovan, Joely Richardson, Sam Bould, Ian Hart, Jason Flemyng, Annette Badland, Roger Lloyd-Pack.

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