Rural Wales is not a familiar setting to most people, but director Jon Jones uses it to explore themes that everyone can relate to: grief, growing up, and the importance of friendship. Set in the 1970s in the quiet Welsh countryside, Last Summer follows a group of boys whose playtime in the woods is cut short when they hear gunshots near their home. Davy (Noa Thomas) and his brother Iwan (Gruffydd Weston), along with their friends, brothers Robbie (Christopher Benning) and Rhys (Rowan Jones), run towards the latter pair’s house. Davy tells them that it’s probably just the neighbour shooting rabbits, but the reality that awaits them is much more personal and devastating. This sets off a series of events that threatens the nature of the boys’ bond as they all attempt to grapple with what they have seen.
Although the incident primarily affects Robbie, Rhys, and their older brother Kevin (Steffan Cennydd), the story is told from Davy’s perspective. He acts as our fly on the wall, watching the life he knows crumble around him. In spite of the shyness and sensitivity that he manifests at the beginning, he does whatever he can to try and bring his friends back together like they used to be. His parents think he is naïve and needs to “grow up” but, in reality, his childlike innocence and optimism are what drive him forward. Not everything ends up working out exactly the way he and the other boys want, but they all show strength and maturity in eventually learning to accept this.
Jones captures the boys’ experiences as realistically as possible; the frequently shaky, handheld camera movements and natural lighting ground the film in authenticity. Adding to the film’s naturalistic style are the unabashed performances of the boys, all of whom are first-time feature film actors. Their connection feels genuine throughout all the highs and lows of the boys’ relationship, no matter whether they’re fighting for or against each other. The same can be said of their chemistry with Cennydd who gives a praiseworthy performance as Kevin, a volatile but deeply loving character who shows that strength and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive. His romantic relationship with local police officer Yvonne (Ruth Ollman) adds an interesting dynamic to the story but is ultimately under-developed and appears arbitrary.
With Last Summer, Jon Jones proves that small-town settings can deliver big, relatable stories. It’s an enthralling coming-of-age drama that, even amid its twists and turns, never loses its heart and soul.
by Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. An old soul, she is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. Her life ambition is to dress like Phillip “Duckie” Dale from Pretty in Pink, her one true style icon. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.