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Indie Movie Review – On The Line

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One of the defining features of independent films is, usually, the lack of budget. That manifests itself in any number of ways; limited number or quality of locations, actors who are just starting out and you’ve never heard of, not many in the cast, very limited or basic special effects, stock music shoehorned into the action, or any combination of those.  But, as I’m sure I’ve said elsewhere, that isn’t a barrier to a good story. I mean, take books for instance. They can’t be much cheaper in terms of production, cast, and scenery but the images I get when reading them are way better than any film I’ve seen!

Cutting back on locations is the least of the problems. 12 Angry Men, Buried, Clerks, and Panic Room are just the first few that pop into my mind that are set in and around a single location. Similarly, The Lighthouse, Gravity, Passengers, and I Am Legend are films where the number of on screen cast can be counted on one hand. Special effects I’m not going into because it is so hard to say what is or isn’t classed as a special effect; I’m not thinking of vast explosions or skimming over a black hole but more like when we are hearing a phone conversation. Obviously one party is in the room with us but does hearing the person on the other end count as SFX?

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Number Please

And that final point is quite pertinent when it comes to On The Line. All the action takes place in one room and we only see one character, Agnes (Victoria Lucie). The room is the telephone exchange on the island of Alderney and Agnes is the switchboard operator. Yes younglings, this was in the days before everyone had their own, personal telephone in their pockets. You couldn’t just dial someone direct. You had to phone the operator, tell them who you wanted to speak to, and they would connect you…if they were available and their line was free. I remember when my parents got our first telephone back in the late sixties. The worry was that we might have to have a party line.

Back then, a party line meant that two or more households had to share a line. As a result you had to hope that the line was free when you needed it. Apparently the opportunities for eavesdropping and overhearing juicy titbits of gossip were legend! Still, we got an individual line and the rest, as they say, is history. Dull, but history. Why is the old fool wittering on about this, you may be wondering. Well, the story behind On The Line is that Operator Agnes hears something going on. She wants to pass this information on to the police but, because the caller is on a party line, she can’t tell where the call is originating from. And the tension builds up from there!

Connecting You

Obviously I’m limited with how much more I can say about the other phone calls that Agnes deals with because of spoilers. What I will say is that there are a few amusing scene setting calls which establish the way that telecommunications worked back in the mid sixties. I remember public phone boxes were always a mystery to me…when did you put the money on and did you press button A or button B? It was a totally different world back then. There were other indications of how different things were. I’m not sure where exactly the film was shot, but I’m guessing, from the credits, that it may have been Avoncroft Museum of Historic Buildings.

The exchange room was totally believable; electro-mechanical switches and relays clicked and whirred. There was a box of Mackintosh’s Week-End chocolates which were a favourite of my mother. There was also industrial to Olympic levels of smoking which, despite being a former smoker, seem so unusual now. I suppose there it is always possible to drop in the line about the rest of the cast just phoning their performances in but when the supporting voice cast includes the ever wonderful Harriet Walter then that is never a hardship! On The Line is available on UK digital from 22nd January 2024 from Miracle Media.

Movie Grade: A

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