Black Medicine, 2021.
Directed by Colum Eastwood.
Starring Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Amybeth McNulty, Orla Brady, Keith McErlean, John Connors, Shashi Rami, Julie Lamberton and Lalor Roddy.
A struck-off doctor working on underground medical procedures is dragged into an organ transplant involving a kidnapped girl.
Black Medicine immediately plunges its audience into a compelling, grubby world. Jo (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) is the person you call when you need a medical procedure done in a hurry, but don’t want to risk a visit to hospital. She was once a respected anaesthetist, until she was struck off for an unspecified misdemeanour and is now working out of a fairly grotty warehouse and has a number of dangerous underworld figures on her speed dial. Sadly, that’s about as much as we get about that world for the next 90 minutes.
Instead, writer-director Colum Eastwood focuses on a single, high-end client of Jo’s. Crime boss Bernie (Orla Brady) – we’re told she’s “dangerous”, but never see much evidence of her criminal endeavours – has taken horrifying action to preserve the life of her daughter Lucy (Julie Lamberton), which involves kidnapped teenager Áine (Amybeth McNulty). When Áine makes an escape from her captivity via Jo’s car, the doctor is faced with an agonising choice between her desire to protect the young woman and her fear of her violent bosses.
Despite its intriguing conceit, Black Medicine resists exploring the murky world of illegal medical procedures in favour of telling a far more conventional crime tale. There’s moral complexity, double-crosses and a henchman who looks more than a little like The Chase quizzer Mark Labbett. So far, so ordinary. It’s deeply disappointing how lacking in energy and innovation the story proves to be, with the cinematography also slumping into the same, drab world of gloomy greys and street lamp blues so beloved of British crime dramas.
There are, however, significant bright spots. Antonia Campbell-Hughes does stellar work in the lead role, conveying the moral dilemma at the heart of the story and forming a genuinely emotional bond with McNulty’s naive teen. Eastwood’s script rather lazily equates Áine with Jo’s recently deceased daughter – who would have been roughly the same age – in a way that simply piles in another crime thriller cliché, as opposed to adding further layers to the relationship between characters. Thankfully, both stars have the charisma and chemistry to elevate the material.
Black Medicine seems almost entirely unwilling to interrogate any of the ideas it raises. As well as mostly ignoring the limitless possibilities of a morally loose doctor, it continually pays lip service to the idea of how far a mother would go for their child, without scratching beneath the surface of that notion. Bernie’s “we’re not so different, you and I” moment rings incredibly hollow given how little information the audience has about Jo’s past and the events surrounding what happened to her daughter.
It’s yet another missed opportunity amid a frustrating movie. While there’s enough twisty storytelling and crunchy violence to please those on the hunt for a new crime tale, it refuses to go for the jugular and find a bit more humanity and specificity within its tired archetypes. The overriding feeling is that of a story half told and far too mired in tropes and clichés to separate itself from the crowd. It takes more than a spoonful of sugar to help this one go down.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.