Every so often, a British film-maker delivers a low-budget independent film that far exceeds the output of the famous directors and massive Hollywood studios. ‘My Feral Heart’ is a fine example of that. Directed by Jane Gull, and starring Steven Brandon, this film won fourteen international awards, yet is little-known in this country. Thanks to BBC 4, I was able to watch it, and I will say from the start that it is exceptional.
This is the story of Luke, a young man with high-functioning Down’s Syndrome. He lives with his mother, and he is her carer. He feeds her, goes out to get the shopping, even bathes her and dresses her. He is completely devoted to her. Then one morning, he finds her dead in bed, and his routine life is shattered. Despite his obvious capabilities, the fact that he has Down’s Syndrome means the authorities will no longer allow him to live in the family home.
Against his will, he is taken to live in a care home, with other young adults who have learning difficulties.
At least the staff are kind to him, especially day manager, Eve, (Shana Swash) who takes a shine to him and allows him an element of freedom. Luke uses that freedom to go shopping for the care home, and to wander the rural district of Essex where he now lives.
Some men arrive to look after the gardens of the care home. They are offenders, sentenced to do Community Service instead of prison time. One of them, Pete, (Will Rastall) befriends Luke, and also becomes close to Eve.
On one of his countryside explorations, Luke finds a young girl caught in a snare trap. He takes her to safety in a old barn. She is filthy, uncommunicative, and scared. He brings her food and clothes, washes her, and visits regularly to look after her. She is the Feral girl who gives the film its title.
We discover that Pete is a hunt saboteur, part of a group who go out and disrupt fox-hunting in the area. As Luke loves animals, he asks Pete if he can go. Worried about Luke’s condition, and other medical problems, Pete refuses. But Luke follows him anyway, and becomes involved. Going to check on the feral girl later, Luke cannot rouse her, so carries her back to the care home to get help.
With no spoilers, that’s about it. A short running time of less than ninety minutes, no car chases, no police sirens, and no sex. A small film about people on the margins of society, doing their best to get by in a world where they are almost invisible to outsiders.
It is just fantastic, believe me. It will break your heart with its honesty.
Filmed on location in Essex, beautifully photographed and sparingly directed with skill, the film is anchored around a truly remarkable performance from Steven Brandon in the lead, (he really has Down’s Syndrome) with a completely believable portrayal of Eve from Shana Swash, and every other member of the cast on top form.
If you can find it, please watch it. I will never forget it.