The Scouting Book for Boys (2009) Poster

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A tragedy of lost childhood - a tremendously assured directorial debut.
jamesgill-114 May 2010
Director Tom Harper could have asked for no better calling card than this debut feature film. 'The Scouting Book For Boys', starring the burgeoning talent of Thomas Turgoose (known for his lead in Shane Meadows' 'This Is England'), is a dark story that follows the experiences of two friends on the cusp of adolescence, experiencing the tragedy of growing up far too fast as a result of the situation they plunge themselves into.

David (Turgoose) and Emily (played by Holly Grainger) are best friends living in the idyllic solitude of a Norfolk caravan park. Their sheltered lives are shattered when Emily is told that she will have to move away to live with her Dad, and so together the two plan to hide Emily in a nearby beach cave. The resulting police search reveals secrets about Emily that David was unprepared for; with his feelings for her growing stronger by the day, and with the real reason for her running away becoming clear, David's romantic existence unravels into a nightmare of strange, conflicting emotions.

The success of this film lies in the fact that the director and writer (Jack Thorne) have managed to capture that sense of desperate adolescent obsession. The teenage protagonists are created faithfully. There is never any inclination to patronise their confused emotions - instead, the intensity of feeling provides the main dramatic impetus, as the dynamic of a childhood relationship begins to change drastically in the face of responsibilities which they are simply not capable of dealing with.

Cinematographer Robbie Ryan in this film creates a love ballad for the Norfolk coast, drenching his shots in golden hues and hazy stretches of empty beach, superbly capturing a landscape caught halfway between land and sea. His work makes the tragic violence of the final scenes all the more unbearable, emphasising to the audience how far these teenagers have come in the course of the narrative, ripped from the dappled summers of childhood into the dank half-light of a cold cave.

The leading performances from Turgoose and Grainger carry the audience forward into the darkness of the final plot twists. Thomas Turgoose is undoubtedly an intriguing acting talent, creating in his character a restrained yet emotionally potent portrayal of adolescent love/obsession. Holly Grainger is admirable as the independent teenage girl who thinks she can take on the world and all it throws at her, unable to recognise how out of her depth she really is. The way she moves from being in complete control to utter dependence on David underlines an impressive understanding of Emily's emotional desperation.

The final turn of the plot has the potential to estrange some viewers, as the director leads his audience to the brink of emotional distress. But the layering of the film requires the charting of fallen innocence to be fully realised, and the director doesn't flinch at its execution. This is a daring introduction to the world of feature film for Tom Harper; its release marks the arrival of a significant new talent in the U.K. film industry.

James Gill --- Find more reviews at
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Do me a favour...
phiggins24 March 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Nicely shot. Very well acted by the two young leads. Apart from that? British indie-lite. Every five minutes the action stops so we can have another artfully-done montage set to the music of some no-doubt achingly-hip acoustic singer-songwriter. This is called "padding". The actual story is, frankly, cretinous. Girl goes and hides in a cave on the Norfolk coast. Her best mate takes her crisps and bin-liners (he's read about the beneficial, warming qualities of the latter in - wait for it - the "Scouting Book for Boys"). Comedy policeman (the terminally miscast Stephen Mackintosh) and comedy parents and comedy friends (a pathetic gallery of over-the-top grotesques with not a single amusing line of dialogue between them) never realise that the best way to find the girl would be to follow her best mate, who goes and sees her several times. It never occurs to them. Why not? The only conclusions we can reach are, either: all these people are utterly stupid, or: the makers of this film think we, the audience, are utterly stupid. Great. Thanks for that. SPOILERS BELOW... And all that the vile act of violence at the end proves is that the film-makers have no idea how to end this hopeless little film and think that showing a young boy smashing a young girl's leg with a rock (and later kissing her dead, vomit-encrusted mouth) is enough to "shock" us and make us think - wow, what a great work of art. No. This is not a great work of art. It wears its influence on its sleeve (Shane Meadows, Shane Meadows and, um, Shane Meadows) but it doesn't earn its heavyweight finale. Instead it is badly written, insipid, full of utterly unrealistic events and motivation (why on earth does that woman in the pool suggest the boy hold her baby; why are the forensic team combing a crime scene while the main suspect sits there in the middle of it?) and loose ends and trite dialogue and banal scenes that serve no purpose (the dire bit in the club, with his dad dragging him on stage, for example). I'm all for supporting new talent and British films and blah blah blah, but, really, someone out there (apart from Shane Meadows) must be able to do better than this.
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The Go-Between meets Ace in the Hole
Ali Catterall31 August 2010
So who was she, the girl you desperately tried to convince yourself was more like the sister you never had? The one who locked you in the toy box of her heart like some dependable old teddy with a glassy stare and a permanently knitted frown, as she parcelled out her favours in front of you? For David (Thomas Turgoose), being that "brotherly" best friend to Emily (Holly Grainger), a girl he's known all his life, just won't cut it anymore. Focusing on adolescent urges turned jealous, possessive and cancerous, The Scouting Book For Boys describes a day-glo dream plummeting into nightmare.

As it opens, the teenage pals are depicted at their Norfolk coastal resort leaping between rows of caravan roofs at sunset: a gorgeously photographed shot perfectly encapsulating the giddy rush and risks of youth. For now, everything is ice creams and waterslides, sunshine and sherbet. There's even that Noah and the frickin' Whale hit on the soundtrack, and you can't get sunnier than that. Then things start turning crap: when an unwilling Emily is packed off to live with her divorcée dad, David helps her hide out in a cave on the beach. ('How to hide yourself' being a section in Baden-Powell's near-eponymous handbook.) But Emily's motives for lying low are more complicated than David imagines. And when the truth is uncovered, the film takes a lurching left turn into Hell-by-the-Sea.

Director Tom Harper and writer Jack Thorne (Skins) have both dealt with wayward adolescence before, and have proved extremely skilled at getting inside those scheming little brains. If the film's adult characters behave like dangerously overgrown children, the kids think they're grown-ups way before their time. Wearing an expression like a bruised knee, Turgoose continues to build on a diminutive but hugely impressive CV; while Grainger, playing slightly younger than her actual age, and sharing superb chemistry with her co-star, is just brilliant: equal parts girlish, manipulative and naïve. Like its protagonists, this is capricious, nuanced drama; just when you think you've a handle on it, it twists out of reach like a flipping fish. Catch it.
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A bittersweet tale of love and loss with some outstanding performances...
ajs-1030 April 2011
I remember hearing about this film when it came out, as I recall, it got a pretty good reception. On the strength of this I decided to give it a viewing. It's quite hard to put down in words the feelings that are brought forth by this British made coming of age tale of love and loss. This one can really get to you if you're in the mood for it. I thought it was very good and that the young actors involved were really excellent.

Emily and David are teenagers, they both live at a caravan park on the Norfolk (England) coast. They are like brother and sister, inseparable. One day Emily hears that she is going to have to go and live with her father. This changes everything for David, his feelings for her may run deeper than he is prepared to admit. The following day Emily disappears and David is the first one they call on to find out where she is. Of course he denies all knowledge and they focus on Steve, the security guard at the park. Little do they know that David and Emily have hatched a plan to hide her so she doesn't have to go and live with her father. Unfortunately things don't go according to plan and, as time passes, David finds out things about Emily that he wishes he didn't know. I can't tell you what it is as I don't want to spoil it for you.

There are some great songs in the soundtrack from the band 'Noah and the Whale', and a nice score by Jack C. Arnold. It's a very well made film with some really nice cinematography. I particularly liked the use of close-ups. As I said earlier, the two young actors involved are truly excellent. Holliday Grainger as Emily is every bit the young teenage tom-boy she portrays and Thomas Turgoose does an excellent job as the love-lorne David. Also, an honourable mention goes to Rafe Spall as Steve.

I really liked this film. It has a very measured style that gently takes you along the path of this bittersweet tale. It's unmistakably English and I think it works better for that, playing on your emotions right up until the rather tragic ending. It's not perfect, the pacing seems a little bit off in places and I felt that some of the characters were a little bit too larger than life, but over all, I liked it. So, if you're prepared for a bit of an emotional ride with a couple of great performances in a very well shot film, then I can definitely recommend this one to you.

My Score: 7.3/10
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"Intimate and intriguing portrayal..."
Sindre Kaspersen13 May 2012
English-born director Tom Harper's feature film debut which was written by English screenwriter Jack Thorne, was shot on various locations in Norfolk, England and premiered at the 57th San Sebastián International Film Festival in 2009. It is a UK production which was produced by Christian Colson and Ivana MacKinnon. It tells the story about David who lives on his own at a caravan park by the coast in the low-lying county of Norfolk. David spends most of his time with Emily, a same-aged girl who acts older than she really is and who lives with her mother. David and Emily share a unique bond and are in some ways like inseparable siblings, but their friendship is put to the ultimate test when they learn that Emily has to leave the caravan park to go and live with her father. Instead of coming to terms with Emily's parents decision, they plot out a way to prevent it from happening and has Emily hiding in a cave nearby. Initially their plan works out fine, but when Emily's mother and a security guard named Steve begins to worry that Emily has gone missing, the police are contacted and Emily tells David a secret that changes his perception of Emily and their relationship.

Finely and acutely directed by first-time filmmaker Tom Harper, this well-paced and compassionately narrated fictional tale which is told from the protagonist's point of view, draws an intimate and intriguing portrayal of an unconditional friendship that evolves into an emotional conflict. While notable for its atmospheric milieu depictions and the fine cinematography by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, this character-driven and narrative-driven thriller contains some profound scenes between the two main characters, a brilliant score by English-born television, theatre and film composer Jack C. Arnold and examines themes like coming-of-age, friendship, family relations, love and jealousy.

This somewhat romantic psychological drama which depicts a gripping and internal study of character, is impelled and reinforced by its cogent narrative structure, the understated and involving acting performances by English actor Thomas Turgoose, English actress Holliday Grainger in her second feature film role and the fine supporting acting performances by English actor Rafe Spall and Northern Irish actress Susan Lynch. A compelling independent film which gained the award for Best British Newcomer Jack Thorne at the 58th BFI London Film Festival in 2009.
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Nicely conceived, but overly schematic in execution
paul2001sw-118 November 2012
'The Scouting Book for Boys' tells the story of a teenage boy who helps a girl he fancies run away from home. Ultimately, the unidirectionality of that relationship is to have dire consequences. In many ways, it reminded me of the sort of novels I used to write: the problem is, my novels weren't very good. So you have a naive protagonist; conflicts of interest at first hidden or ignored, later painfully apparent; stylised minor characters who ultimately seem more like the embodiment of ideas rather than real flesh and blood; and a plot that makes sense in outline but doesn't quite hold up in practice, in part because the protagonists seem to be stretched to fulfil its demands, instead of the story feeling like the entirely natural consequence of who the protagonists are. The film is set in north Norfolk: an attractive coast, but I didn't get a profound sense of place from how this movie is shot. The reliably excellent Thomas Turgoose does what he can with the material, but is limited by the lack of depth in the story. In fact, this isn't an awful movie; but it feels like a first time effort, and less than the potential sum of its parts.
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Poignant, Powerful and Haunting Little Movie
richard-81030 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I have to say that I was very impressed with this low budget Brit movie. When I say 'low budget' incidentally, please don't take this the wrong way and imagine an amateur production with game but low quality cast and poor production values. The cast I thought was excellent, a couple of faces I recognised but otherwise largely unknown to me. The two young leads put in top class performances. The storyline unfolds at a fair pace and the setting – a coastal caravan park/holiday camp – convincing and authentic. I have stayed in such places in my childhood and the movie catches the slightly unreal 'every day a holiday' atmosphere convincingly. One reviewer felt that the movie insulted residents of such places but I didn't see this at all – the people came across to me as pretty much ordinary people for better and worse, which is what they are. The plot develops in a way that was unexpected to me with a shocking twist in the tail. Implausible? Some of the stories that you read in the newspapers are far more bizarre and unlikely, shocking things do happen sadly.

Something I find really gratifying about such films is that they prove again that you don't need to spend massive amounts of money on high profile stars and CGI effects to create a really good film. If you get the basics right – talented cast, competent direction and photography and above all else, a decent script/storyline – you can create a memorable and entertaining movie. This is something that French cinema has shown us many times but Brit and US movie makers can pull this off also. Of course a problem with movies such as this is that they don't get the distribution of the big movies, so you'll probably have trouble tracking it down. Keep an eye on the satellite/cable schedules and hope it appears!
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Nicely shot, well directed and acted . . . but flops on the writing!
griz-259-17510019 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
A movie entirely about selfishness. Everyone is so wrapped up in their own childish dramas of dysfunctionality that nothing of substance results. It's not "bittersweet" because it's only bitter. If the writers were looking for some kind of Romeo/Juliet analogy it would have to be a version where Romeo force-feeds Juliet the worst kind of painful slow-acting poison before suffering a fit of conscience and killing himself. The only two characters that rise to some semblance of "the top" are the police inspector who is too "Cluseau" to be taken seriously and the pedophile who threatens to break the legs of the boy if he is not truthful with him.

A triple-tragic movie where the greatest tragedies are 1) that someone would conceive and write such a story 2) a movie company would consent to it being produced 3) that it would manage to gain a following that thought it was in any way good.

There is no good in this story-line. Period. I hope it doesn't ruin the young actors who showed at least a bit of promise.
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The Chemistries of Jealousy and Motherhood meet
raverocks1014 April 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Nicely filmed and the acting is what you'd expect for a made for the 50" screen movie. The storyline is a little bit south of implausible, way south. You'll keep asking yourself why they are doing this until half way through the movie. It'll make sense, but it's a bit stupid and twisted in my opinion, though I've never personally had to deal with female hormones. The chemistry that occurs in a human brain when certain events happen in our lives is what got underlined by this story and why we do stupid things when we are angry or upset. A tip: use the subtitles for the first five or ten minutes, just to get used to the accent and the speed of conversation that includes many strange contractions, to my ears at least.
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Seen This Type Of Lighting Before
Theo Robertson15 November 2012
Film4 have been showing " The British Connection " which is a euphemistic title for British made film productions devoid of American funding . While this might be well and good to a degree what it does is show up the fault of British film making:producing films that are unable to shake off the feeling that they're television productions rather cinematic ones and sharing the same visual style

THE SCOUTING BOOK FOR BOYS is a case in point . This was shown immediately after Shane Meadow's ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE MIDLANDS and you'd be forgiven for thinking both films share the same director . Much of this is down to the cinematography where everything is brightly lit the colour yellow is rather prominent . In fact many of the films being shown such as LAYER CAKE and KILL LIST also have this visual look ( Though Matthew Vaughn style did make LAYER CAKE cinematic ) which led me to believe the same cinematographer was responsible for all the movies featured. I was shocked to learn this was not the case

There's also a similar type of feel to the narrative . It's poignant , bitter-sweet and not entirely plausible . At the risk of sounding repetitive while reviewing these type of Brit flicks I was reminded of these PLAY FOR TODAY that were getting broadcast on a weekly basis by the BBC in the 1970s . Unsurprisingly both the director and screenwriter have a background in television

In that case I won't be too critical because there does seem to be an element of the film being produced as a cinematic calling card by the director and obviously the budget is always going to be a worry in this type of production . That said there needs to be something stronger in order to grab the audience having a conveyor belt of British movies being broadcast on a channel means any viewer with a brain will quickly notice how similar contemporary films from this country are
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It looks great, it sounds great, the acting's great so why ain't it a great movie?
colinmetcalfe12 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
A picture post card perfect movie, unfortunately like a postcard there isn't much room for the message! With me films that are almost there make me more angry than complete turkeys because you're left thinking what a waste. This is the case with TSBFB. The set up is perfect, the photography exceptional- iconic in parts, the characters well drawn with great acting from the two young central characters. The second half fails to deliver though - why? I'm afraid for me it is the script. It thins out and gets a little desperate relying on the young male leads tendency to suffer a narcolepsy attack every time the story gets into difficulty! There is no real climax and I think this was a brave attempt to not follow the formula, but if you haven't got one then you need something else and this film didn't hence my sense of anti-climax.
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Promised so much but delivered so little
Karen-t22 March 2010
Unbelievable storyline, unbelievable characterisation and poor acting (apart from the young lad who played David). There really isn't much else that can be said about this film apart from the fact that it could be deemed as good if viewers do not question any of the many discrepancies and unrealistic situations the storyline provides.

I also found it insulting to caravan folk. There wasn't one likable character amongst the people in this film, who choose to live an alternative lifestyle. Every character was flawed in some way. A negative and insulting misrepresentation of people who live on caravan parks.
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kosmasp28 December 2010
I'm not comparing the movies here (haven't yet seen the either Kidulthood nor Adulthood), but saying that there is a coming of Age story here. More or less that is, because it could actually also be described as a trip into human psyche and what lies in everyone of us(?). It goes back to the saying "If you love something ..."

But what makes this exceptional, are the actors. It is rarely that you see actors that young being that good. You might have seen the boy in other English movies (he has done quite a few things), but I hadn't seen the girl before. And she is really good. Of course the story holds your attention from start to finish which is a good thing too. A dark drama that might just be your cup of tea
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