REVIEW: The Souvenir – Part II (2021)
[This review contains fairly detailed discussion of all parts of the film – avoid if you don’t want to be ‘spoiled’]
Director Joanna Hogg’s highly personal tale of a young film student’s first serious relationship – 2019’s The Souvenir – was one of the best films of that year. She had always planned that it would be in two parts, but the follow up has been a little delayed. Part II picks up at almost the exact moment that Part I leaves off, with a grief-stricken Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) channeling her emotions into her artistic endeavours and starting to work on a film based on the events in Part I. Hogg’s deconstruction of memories folding in upon themselves, film as autobiography and artworks as memorials means that Part II is even more complex and layered than Part I.
Part II is more theatrical – with the creation of musicals and music videos on the film school sound stage (both parts of The Souvenir were filmed in a giant hangar in Norfolk). When Julie shows her graduation film to her peers, friends and family – it veers off into a flight of fantasy, an extended dream sequence in which events we saw in Part I are explored and exploded. It is abstract and impressionistic, but the emotional truth at the centre of it comes from an extremely vulnerable, raw and real place. The production and costume design continues to be exquisitely detailed in representing real aspects of Hogg’s life instead of a facsimile of the 1980s.
Initially, Robert Pattinson was cast in The Souvenir Part II in what was presumably going to be a significant role, but he had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with The Batman. Instead, in a refreshing change from Part I, there is no main male role in Part II and Julie gets to shine as the star of her own story. The supporting cast includes Richard Ayoade, returning from Part I, but getting more than a one-scene cameo this time. Then the new additions are Stranger Things‘ Charlie Heaton, who gets a memorable sex scene; The Favourite‘s Joe Alwyn, who plays Julie’s sympathetic editor; and Beach Rats‘ Harris Dickinson, who plays Anthony (Tom Burke from the first film) in Julie’s memorial film to their relationship. Alwyn and Dickinson both have scenes where they discuss Julie’s grief with her and help her process her grief through filmmaking.
Honor Swinton-Byrne is once again, extraordinary in the central role. Julie’s arc from the start of the first film to the end of the second is such a multi-faceted journey and neither the writing or acting is ever simplistic. It would be easy to say “Julie grows in confidence and becomes more independent,” which is true, but we still see her constantly question herself while making her graduation film in Part II and struggle to convey to her team what she wants. Her cinematographer gets frustrated with Julie’s loose and organic approach to filmmaking and her friends rally around to defend her, while Julie remains mute. In one scene, Swinton-Byrne clearly communicates that she is attracted to someone with the subtlest shifting of her eyes – she manages to say so much by doing very, very little.
If you are able to re-watch Part I shortly before watching Part II, I really recommend it, as it is very much a continuation of the story, right from where Part I leaves off. Many minor threads, throwaway comments, supporting characters and locations from the first film crop up again in Part II. The funniest of course is Richard Ayoade’s character Patrick lamenting the fact that “there’s never been a good musical made in Britain” in Part I and trying (and largely failing) to rectify that by making his own in Part II. Patrick and Julie’s directing styles could not be more different, with him being confrontational with his crew – “you are forcing me to have a tantrum.” Ironically it is Patrick who partly inspires Julie to create a memorial to Anthony via her work.
Julie spends more time with her parents than she did in the first one, relying on her mother, in particular for emotional support through her grief. While Tilda Swinton and Honor Swinton-Byrne’s shared scenes are often emotional, there is plenty of humour to be found also. Julie’s mother gets creatively inspired (at least partly by Anthony) to do a Fine Arts course and then gets into pottery and ceramics. This puts her in amusing competition with Julie, as they both pursue creative and artistic outlets and there is an incident with a sugar bowl that demonstrates the full extent of British passive aggression via stiff upper lip. Hogg’s masterful meal scenes – a hallmark of her work – continue here in all their awkwardness, from struggling over the inefficient “dog barrier” to Julie pouting like a teenager when annoyed by her father.
The Souvenir Part I had one of my favourite endings of all time, which took my breath away when I first saw it. After being nervous that Part II (and especially its ending) couldn’t possibly live up to the first part, I have found that it may even exceed it. Those who were frustrated by The Souvenir, because Julie is so passive in a relationship where she is mistreated by her drug-addicted boyfriend, are more likely to enjoy Part II. Instead of all of Julie’s effort and energy going into her doomed relationship, it goes into making her film. She is still flawed and there will still be times when you want to shake her and tell her to get herself together, but this is an authentic portrayal of a young woman who is very much finding her feet … and herself. Joanna Hogg has not created a flattering semi-autobiographical work, but rather an honest one. This (self) portrait of an artist as a young woman, across two films, is a rare gem and I’m so thankful that it exists.
The Souvenir Part II will be released on October 29, 2021
The Souvenir Part I – Full Review
Interview with Joanna Hogg about The Souvenir Part II