It’s summer, somewhere idyllic in the English countryside and Gillian has decided, rather on a whim it seems, to get a job as a strawberry picker. She turns up at a strawberry farm, gets herself a job, gets herself a caravan to stay in, and soon becomes the object of affection for a ruggedly handsome strawberry picker named Kev. Romance begins to blossom and all seems to be going along quite nicely until disaster strikes: her sister Emily arrives.
At first it seems that Gillian and Emily are two polar opposites, Gillian is quiet, reserved and thoughtful, while Emily is attention-seeking and brash. There is more to their sibling rivalry and arguments than initially meets the eye, and the decision of Emily to stay with her sister on the farm goes down like a lead balloon with Gillian, who had up to this point created a new identity for herself, name, back-story and all.
Strawberry Fields, which is directed by Frances Lea, is an impressive achievement on a very small budget; a performance-led film which apparently took place with only three days of rehearsals and eighteen days of shooting. The actors all put in some excellent performances, from a young cast, with Anna Madeley really shining as the troubled Gillian.
However, despite it being very nice to look at, and it really scores big points there; all filmed on location in Kent, during a hazy summer that almost seems otherworldly, it isn’t entirely clear at times what director Frances Lea is trying to say. Yes, brothers and sisters can learn how to push each other’s buttons after years of incessant squabbling, but Emily is a grown woman and still acts like a spoilt child.
There is never any explicit mention of mental illness or manic depression, but that is what Emily seems to represent here. She drives a wedge between Gillian and Kev in the worst way she can, but it is also hard to empathise with Gillian at times, although her problems come more from being unable to verbalise her feelings, than from being overtly unstable. It is a very sweet and endearing story of the bond between the two sisters and how others get pulled into the cyclone of their tumultuous relationship. However, it never feels entirely clear whether we should feel sorry for Emily or feel angered by her utterly selfish behaviour.
Words: Mark Williams