Best-selling UK Christian author Adrian Plass's Silver Birches is the inspiration for Randall Stevens's Birches, the story of a prominent author/speaker, David (Drew Waters, The Redemption of Henry Myers), who struggles to pick up the pieces of his life following the untimely death of his young wife, Jessica (Anna Acton, Doctors). It is only when David reluctantly agrees to a weekend with old friends that David begins moving toward a path of healing.
While Plass has long been known more for his Christian humor, he's also long been quite the diversified writer with over 30 titles to his credit including Bible commentaries and more dramatic novels including this one which has also been available under the title Ghosts.
Birches is a quiet film, less concerned with histrionics and more concerned with the authentic ins-and-outs of the grieving process as it pertains to David, whose desire to become a retired recluse and give up writing is initially resisted gently by those around him before a good majority of the 90-minute film is devoted his reunion with these old friends, members of his former youth group, at a serene British estate where the friends, largely guided by Jessica's dearest friend Angela (Natasha Little, Silent Witness).
Birches is refreshingly devoid of unnecessary conflicts and trumped up actions, instead bringing to life Plass's gentle humor that sits within the core of the kinds of life lessons we genuinely learn from those with whom we spend our lives and whose presence often serves as the foundation of our faith.
The truth is that Birches is both a faith-based film and a richly universal, human one in which the faith is so intimately intertwined in the roles of each character that you don't so much feel preached at as you feel companioned along the journey. The largely British cast, a key exception being the American-born Waters as the American-born David, is uniformly strong with Natasha Little, in particular, leaving such a strong impression that you practically want her to become your own best friend. Todd Carty, as Mike, is also quite the gem here while Acton's scenes, largely in flashback other than the film's opening scene, are warm and lush and help us to identify with why David's grief is so incredibly intense. As David, Drew Waters embodies the broken soul of a man whose idyllic life has been shattered and whose faith is disrupted by this unexpected loss.
Despite the challenges of low-budget filmmaking, Birches is beautifully rendered with Richard Dunton's lensing lingering patiently alongside these quiet conversations and honest revelations while Stephen Limbaugh's original music is a soft, compassionate whisper fluidly bridging everything that unfolds here in a way that feels authentic and avoids the usual syrupy tones of similar films.
Mark Freiburger and Gary Wheeler have adapted Plass's words quite nicely, clearly inspired by both his story and the gently humorous tone that he so often weaves into his writings. While Birches itself is purely a drama, the dialogue captures little tones and nuances that serve the material quite nicely. The ensemble cast, in turn, brings it all quite beautifully to life.
Currently in the midst of exploring distribution options worldwide, including here in the U.S., Birches is a quiet, thoughtful and beautiful little film grounded deeply within faith yet immersed within a story that is universal and familiar. It's an intelligent film, yet emotionally resonant, and certainly deserving of distribution here in the U.S. If you get a chance, you'll definitely want to check it out.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic