William (Tom Bowes), a soldier in the British Army, is on his trek back home after the end of the Second World War. Stalked by a German infantryman across the remote countryside, he explores the seemingly empty remains of an old village. Happening upon a wounded comrade (Ben Walsh), the two exchange stories of the conflict that has scarred them both for life. Things don’t stay quiet for long, though, as one final test awaits William in the form of his pursuer.
With the focus firmly on William’s emotional journey back from the fighting, director George S. Evans has already diverted from what viewers might expect from films of this genre. It’s not about bloodshed; it’s more about what it leaves in its wake. Small moments of William enjoying his surroundings and contemplating his actions and those of his fellow soldiers go a long way in telling a story that feels both like a relief and a massive burden to carry. The destroyed and charred remains of towns, coupled with the overbearing silence, create an eerie atmosphere, made even more effective by the constant reminders of a dangerous hunter in hot pursuit. And all these are brought to the forefront by William’s conversation with his dying brother in arms, in which both Bowes and Walsh do excellent work together, exploring their vulnerable sides. With only 17 minutes to work with, English Rose maximizes the shared screen time of the two actors as their characters reflect on the enormity of what is behind them. It’s touching, but as the scene moves on, it shifts gears to a more bittersweet conclusion.
Period pieces of this caliber are always a tough ask for indie films, but English Rose nails the complexities on the technical side of things. The production design and the costumes specifically are excellent (along with outstanding makeup work courtesy of Izzy Street), seamlessly placing the audience in the grim aftermath of World War II. Visually speaking, it achieves a balance between spectacle-driven shots and intimate closeups, with a pleasing color palette to tie it all together. The immersion does show cracks in its facade, especially in the editing and blocking departments. Never is this more evident than in the final showdown, where an emotional William is forced to finally confront one final physical threat. The impact of what should be the short’s most powerful moment is dulled, with all sense of urgency being lost within a handful of cuts. It doesn’t help that the confrontation is resolved relatively quickly, giving no breathing room for the revelation to truly hit home.
It’s in its most serene moments that English Rose stands out from the crowd. The enormity of a great war bears heavy on the souls of those who fought in it and survived it, something that filmmaker George S. Evans skillfully, if not always impeccably, explores through the eyes of a weary man desperate to find his way back to his family.