Review: North-East Stars in Gritty Beautiful Thriller

Eddie Atkinson reviews Jackdaw, the feature film debut of writer-director Jamie Childs (The Sandman, His Dark Materials, Dr Who) 4 stars.

Jackdaw is a menacing thriller which demonstrates the cinematic potential of the North-East, and does not disappoint with high-adrenaline chase scenes.

What will immediately stand out to any viewer is the film’s stunning cinematography; it opens with its protagonist Jack Dawson (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) retrieving a package amongst the off-shore wind turbines that will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the area. 

A tense canoe – jet ski chase follows, shown through a glorious wide shot of the North Sea, interrupted by the occasional ominous low whirring of an out of focus turbine blade. This comes to define much of the opening action of the film, a series of unusual chase scenes (canoe against jetski, jetski against dirt bike, dirt bike against massive horse) realised by camerawork that brings out a menacing beauty in the North-Eastern landscape, accompanied by a droning, grating (a positive) score that will sound familiar to Tenet fans. 

As the plot develops (it takes a while for any real dialogue to kick in), we follow Jack as he attempts to track down his brother Simon (Leon Harrop) after he has been kidnapped. If this seems standard fare for an action film, that’s because it is. While the chase scenes are inventive, the cinematography is exceptional and there are moments of genuine emotion, Jackdaw is at its heart a thriller, and if gritty violence and the odd slightly cliched piece of dialogue aren’t your thing, it may struggle to grip you. 

While grit and cinematic menace are the defining qualities of Jackdaw, there are moments of comedy, provided by the established comedy chops of Thomas Turgoose (This is England) and Allan Mustafa (People Just Do Nothing). Turgoose in particular brings levity to some of the film’s darker moments.

Jenna Coleman’s performance as Bo is enthrallingly enigmatic, although a lack of screen time means her character never quite develops beyond this mysteriousness. Leon Harrop’s screen time is similarly fleeting but he finds great emotional depth in his portrayal of Simon. Oliver Jackson-Cohen meanwhile is a convincing, very brooding, leading man, but it is Joe Blakemore’s turn as criminal kingpin Silas, menacing, deeply unnerving yet occasionally vulnerable, which will stay with audiences the longest.

The film was produced by North East Screen and absolutely excels in its mission to demonstrate the cinematic and artistic potential of the area, the shots of the North Sea and the striking silhouette of industrial works against its coastline particularly memorable.  

It occasionally motions also towards social commentary, but doesn’t quite have the courage of its convictions to explore the issues it makes passing reference to. It’s worth noting also that while Jackdaw turned to the North-East for its setting and production, there isn’t a massive amount of local talent in the cast; Jackson-Cohen is from London and Coleman from Blackpool.

If Jackdaw occasionally leaves something to be desired, it is still a gripping, high-adrenaline and utterly beautiful film that works to demonstrate the cinematic potential of an area often overlooked by production groups and governments alike.