Bait review – one of the defining British films of the decade

M

Mark Kermode

Guest
It’s war between the locals and tourists in a once-thriving Cornish fishing village in Mark Jenkin’s dreamlike masterpiece

Cornish film-maker Mark Jenkin’s breakthrough feature is a thrillingly adventurous labour of love – a richly textured, rough-hewn gem in which form and content are perfectly combined. A refreshingly authentic tale of tensions between locals and tourists in a once-thriving fishing village, it’s an evocative portrait of familiar culture clashes in an area where traditional trades and lifestyles are under threat. Shot with clockwork cameras on grainy 16mm stock, which Jenkin hand-processed in his studio in Newlyn, Bait is both an impassioned paean to Cornwall’s proud past, and a bracingly tragicomic portrait of its troubled present and possible future. It’s a genuine modern masterpiece, which establishes Jenkin as one of the most arresting and intriguing British film-makers of his generation.

Fishing-stock siblings Martin and Steven Ward (“Kernow King” Edward Rowe and Giles King respectively) are at odds. While the former still scrapes a living selling his catch of fish and lobster door-to-door, his brother has succumbed to the tourist trade, using their late father’s boat to take rowdy, moneyed tourists on sightseeing trips. “He’d be spinning in his grave,” growls Martin, whose sense of betrayal has been worsened by the sale of the family home to incomers Tim and Sandra Leigh (Simon Shepherd and Mary Woodvine). Now fishing nets have become chintzy decorations, the perfect accompaniment to a fridge stacked with prosecco.

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