Director: Andrew Legge
Writers: Andrew Legge, Angeli Macfarlane
Cast: Stefanie Martini, Emma Appleton, Rory Fleck Byrne
Producers: Alan Maher, John Wallace
Music: Neil Hannon
Cinematographer: Oona Menges
Editor: Colin Campbell
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 79mins
Year: 2022

What’s the story: In 1940, brilliant sisters Thomasina, or Tom (Appleton), and Martha (Martini), invent LOLA, a machine that can receive TV and radio broadcasts from the future. With war in Europe waging, the sisters use LOLA to gain an advantage.

What’s the verdict: The thrill of Andrew Legge’s remarkable found footage film is in how it unfurls its alternate history, dazzling the audience with set-pieces that leave recent blockbusters looking dull indeed. So we’ll avoid big spoilers.

The premise is a corker. In 1940, two orphaned sisters, forced to care for each other since childhood, invent a time machine they name LOLA. A wonder of wood and vacuum tubes, LOLA can intercept TV and radio broadcasts from the future. Elder sister Tom is the bright-eyed genius, whose brilliance risks blinding her to the darker aspects of her creation. Martha, while also fiercely intelligent, finds herself playing the ethical sentry as the sands of time are rearranged.

In home movies, we see them blissing out to the transmissions of 1960s and 1970s counter-culture, from Woodstock, to Dylan, to Bowie, before deciding the war effort needs them. Broadcasting anonymous warnings of impending German bombing raids, they become heroes to those crammed into tube tunnels and Anderson shelters.

Soon enough, the army gets involved, wanting to track down “The Angel of Portobello.” Military resource brings benefits, but also unwanted interference and temptation.

Purposely reminiscent of the opening to The Blair Witch Project, Lola’s first scene also appears to show a warning and apology from the main character. Opening text informs us of a mysterious cache of film reels discovered in 2021. The film looks to have been broadcast in 1941. What Legge does with the found footage subgenre here is as electrifying as what directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez did with their seismic 1999 horror hit.

Often shooting with a 16mm Bolex film camera or 35mm stock, Legge and cinematographer Oona Menges (daughter of famed DP Chris) marry their visuals to impressively doctored archive footage. The results are breathtakingly convincing depictions of radically altered pasts and futures. Often shown to unnerving effect through a haze of static on LOLA’s circular, eye-like screen.

There have been plenty of alternate history WW2 movies – Strange Holiday, It Happened Here, Fatherland, Resistance, Jackboots on Whitehall, The Philadelphia Experiment 2. Joining them are recent TV series The Man in the High Castle, SS-GB, and The Plot Against America. But, Legge and co-writer Angeli Macfarlane avoid déjà vu by keeping the storytelling lean, precise, and consistently surprising. Even a romantic subplot involving Rory Fleck Byrne’s good egg military man is woven well into the wider plot, and poignantly resolved come the close.

Despite the sometimes arty 16mm presentation, Lola knows to deliver the thrills of a time travel story. As with Back to the Future, it has its main characters inventing rock n’ roll, leading to an audacious sequence of WW2 moral boosting. Elsewhere, the cultural is the canary in the coal mine: a starch-collared Major recoils in horror at footage of Woodstock, and the lyrics to a hit song from the future foreshadow a big plot shift.

Holding everything together is the central relationship between Tom and Martha. In a subtle nod to the film’s sci-fi roots, they both receive outer space inflected monikers – Major Tom and Mars. Martini and Appleton share a believable bond, even when Tom’s thinking becomes a little too black and white, and her hair style shifts from gender-fluid chic to something more authoritarian.

Lola is a marvel. Glittering, haunting, intelligent, and profound. Based on this, Andrew Legge’s future looks bright.

Rob Daniel
Twitter: rob_a_Daniel
Podcast: The Movie Robcast

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