Coming Up Roses With Submarine

Coming Up Roses With Submarine

Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Optimum Releasing/Warp Films 

Release date: March 18th 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 97 minutes

Director: Richard Ayoade

Cast: Craig Roberts, Yasmin Paige, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine, Noah Taylor, Gemma Chan

I remember my first week at a new secondary school. Catholic school, I should add. It was during 4th period History on a Thursday afternoon and for some reason I felt the need to write a mischievous note to my new best friend, James, about a film where a woman…let’s say “enjoys herself” and leave it at that.

Of course, the note got snatched from me before I could pass it to the intended recipient and I watched in horror as it made its way around the class until finally reaching the teacher. Not realising that gallantly owning up to it would mean having to read it out loud, suddenly hindsight began to kick in and so too did the idea that I would probably be expelled on my first week.


Well, I didn’t get expelled, and while the experience made me feel like disappearing from the face of the Earth completely, it would be forgotten in a few weeks when a classmate got her hair stapled to a display board.

That was 20 years ago but it’s a moment, along with many others, I remembered while watching Submarine. Adapted from Joe Dunthorne’s 2008 novel of the same name and set in Swansea, it’s the story of Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) who’s doing his best to survive secondary school and keep his parents together.

The girl he likes, Jordana (Yasmin Paige), has bouts of eczema which he’s noticed from staring at her so much. He’s also noticed she likes bullies, so to win her over he picks on an overweight girl; it works, though not in the way he originally planned. Their relationship starts off with a bit of blackmail, followed by some petty arson and it’s not long before he’s buying her books by Shakespeare, J.D. Salinger and Nietzsche.


At home, his permanently depressed and unemployed marine biologist father, Lloyd (Noah Taylor), sips hot lemon from a mug he never washes while his mother Jill (Sally Hawkins) takes to hanging out with an old boyfriend, a mystic ninja called Graham (Paddy Considine) who lives next door. It’s not a situation he’s happy about. While he carefully monitors every detail of his parents’ lives and tries to keep the mystic ninja away from his mum, it eventually comes between his relationship with Jordana.


It all sounds rather serious and like a tough time for Oliver, but rather than get wrapped up in sentimentality and tearful moments, or going to the other extreme with gritty realism and brutal drama, Submarine walks a fine line between dark comedy and is filled with genuine insight into what it’s like to be that age. It’s rather like Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye and Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia which both do a fine job at representing teen anxiety and that ever irrepressible rebelliousness that comes with being a teenager.


It’s that time when foresight hasn’t kicked in yet and things like stealing a fat girl’s backpack, vomiting on Graham’s van and trying to kick his best friend in the balls all seem like good ideas at the time. I laughed out loud many times because there were so many moments I remembered from my own youth, such as the note-writing incident and probably worst of all; my attempt to kick a girl in the playground ended up with her skirt being pulled over her head (I know it’s not possible, but I think I was more mortified).


Submarine will have you reeled in by its first few minutes when Oliver sits in class and imagines his tragic death could trigger a wave of emotion through Wales with all night candles vigils teenage and girls who never knew him sobbing uncontrollably over the loss.

As a screenplay, it’s magnificent; the dialogue flows so naturally from the actors and it was so easy for me to relate to Oliver. The cinematography has a very strong style and so too does the editing. It comes across as timeless; not really the 60’s, sometimes sounding like the 70’s, possibly the 80’s, at times feeling like the 90’s, you can never really place it and yet there’s something immediate about it, it matters to now. It’s coloured fade outs also add a wonderful touch and as a film, its self awareness fits perfectly.


  • Stuck on the Puzzle (intro) (0:54)
  • Hiding Tonight (3:07)
  • Glass in the Park (4:00)
  • It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind (4:08)
  • Stuck on the Puzzle (3:32)
  • Piledriver Waltz (3:25)

Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys contributes to the soundtrack with 6 of his songs which add a dreamy, Beatles-like quality to the film. The score by classically trained composer Andrew Hewitt is also quite significant, with its orchestral moments which Oliver’s narrations are placed over.

Essentially Submarine is a film about people who sink into their own worlds, whether it’s one of despair, an extra marital affair, terminal illness, pyromaniac tendencies, or like Oliver, just plain enjoyable delusions, there’s something very real and very true about it. It’s a film that pulls you so well that by the end, it’s not something you want to come up from, but stay submerged in its brilliant celluloid frames.

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