Martin is a fisherman without a boat, his brother Steven having re-purposed it as a tourist tripper. With their childhood home now a get-away for London money, Martin is displaced to the estate above the harbour.
Despite its tough subject matter, there’s a magic saturating writer-director Mark Jenkin’s film, shot on a vintage 16mm camera using black and white Kodak film that he then hand-processed.
Jenkin’s methods (you can read more about them in my interview with him here) result in a film both grittily realistic (harking back to those 1960s kitchen sink dramas) and nostalgic, as the sun dapples the sea in the evening.
It’s crackly too, properly aged, with fizzes and fissures popping all over the screen. No longer simply a way to watch a story, the method is part of the story.
Bait is about a man struggling to cope with the gentrification of his village, though “gentrification” sanitises the destruction of a way of life. It’s shocking, sad and bitingly funny, as well as strikingly beautiful – but it’s also ultimately very modern, casting a vintage net over a contemporary issue that isn’t going away.
Martin Ward is a fisherman without a boat, in a fishing village where traditional trades are dying. Its comparative cheapness compared to London has made it a popular destination for second home owners, who are pricing locals out of the market. And the balance feels firmly tipped in favour of holidaymakers and new residents rather than the families who have lived there for generations.
He’s reduced to casting nets from the beach and checking back for fish after the next tide; or throwing single lobster pots off a cliff. He sells the fish to the pub landlady, probably for more than it’s worth, though she can sell them as locally caught, something holidaymakers love.
Martin (a terrific Edward Rowe, constantly eliciting both frustration and sympathy) is saving up for a new boat, and I spent most of the film terrified his tin full of tens and twenties would be stolen from his windowsill in the little Cornish fishing village where he lives.
He’s completely focused on that and the changes in his village; actions and people are either good and bad and for him there is little in between.
Locals who try to sit on the fence, or make the most of the changes they’ve been powerless to stop, are seen by Martin as collaborators. But you wonder if, now he has this new role as village agitator, he could even revert to the old ways if they were reintroduced.
For Martin’s brother Steven (Giles King), current owner of the family fishing boat, it’s more lucrative for him to take out day trippers and stag weekenders (at one point a giant penis-human hybrid is escorted on board with his mates, along with vast quantities of beer). Yet Steven’s son, Neil (Isaac Woodvine), prefers to work with Martin as a fisherman than on his own dad’s boat.
The brothers’ old family home, a cottage with a derelict net store next door, has been sold to Tim and Sandra Leigh. They aren’t, in the familiar parlance that’s become a cliché, from round here. Their newly done-up kitchen now jangles with overpriced nautical bits and bobs ordered online, and the renovated net store is rented out as a posh Airbnb. A holidaymaker with a baby, renting it for the week, shouts in frustration at the fishermen’s early morning start. The locals who used to live in the old cottages now live in a council estate at the top of the village.
Bait is firmly about Martin, and his perspective on life, though while it’s a film angry at what has happened to Martin’s village (and many like it), it isn’t always in agreement with his thinking and his reactions.
And despite the gloom of its subject matter Bait is not just timely and topical but also entertaining. It’s often funny, highlighting the worries that consume the privileged. Not for Tim and Sandra concerns about how the mysterious lobster they’re about to have for dinner might have been procured by their snobbish and wayward teenage son; playing far more heavily on their mind is how to kill it. What, really, plunge it into boiling water?
The story Bait is telling both exposes the pressure on traditional and working class communities in areas often dependent on well-off holidaymakers, and highlights visitors’ tricky relationship with chocolate box places we can visit then leave a week later.
The incomers are insensitive and self-obsessed but they’re not caricatures. It might be an easier watch if they were. Tim (Simon Shepherd) is irritating beyond belief, but wife Sandra (Mary Woodvine) is at least thoughtful about their place in the village. Daughter Katie (Georgia Ellery), beginning a relationship with Neil, just wants to fit in and have some fun. But it’s too trite to think of Neil as the link between the old and the new.
Katie’s brother Hugo thinks he owns the place, or tries to pretend he does. (In this country while a Katie can come from any walk of life a Hugo tends to bring to mind a member of the upper middle classes…)
The youngsters’ looks fit perfectly with Jenkin’s aesthetic. Their outfits show how much ’60s and ’70s fashion is still around; Katie with her wavy dark bob could have walked straight out of a 1960s drama about a posh girl and a local boy.
Many of the scenes feel very mannered, something you don’t get with naturalistic mumbly movies nowadays. And Jenkin has his characters pause for what seems like an age. Martin, and his friends when they’re with him, only seem to move if they’re actually going somewhere. It makes everything feel deliberate, and harks back to films from the past, a well as implying that Martin isn’t just going to go away.
Bait is showing on Film4 on 17 September 2020 at 11.20pm. It’s also available on blu-ray and on digital:
Watch the Bait trailer now and scroll down for images from the film:
Bait – images
Martin (Edward Rowe
Sandra (Mary Woodvine) and Tim (Simon Shepherd)
Martin (Edward Rowe) and Wenna (Chloe Endean)
Neil (Isaac Woodvine)
Martin (Edward Rowe) and his nephew Neil (Isaac Woodvine)
Martin (Edward Rowe)
Director Mark Jenkin