Based on director and writer Hogg’s own experiences, The Souvenir charts the relationship between aspiring young film student Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne, daughter of Tilda) and the older Foreign Office worker Anthony (Tom Burke). However, Anthony’s heroin addiction begins to affect not only the couple’s relationship, but Julie’s ambitions.
Hogg provides a naturalistic mise en scene that fits Julie and Anthony’s relationship through the dual use of the subtle formal elements such as cinematography and performances as well as the conversational nature of the script. This last aspect in particular can be seen in Julie and Anthony’s exchanges, which avoid artificially heightening the emotions expressed that would have made the narrative developments seem cliched.
This subtlety also extends to include the ways in which Anthony manipulates and abuses Julie, taking advantage of his younger partner’s naivety to gaslight her as he uses her parents’ wealth to fund his addiction whilst taking it upon himself to mentor her in film making. The lack of melodrama in these scenes further grounds the narrative and characters in a reality often rarely found in films dealing with a similar subject matter and making them seem all too believable.
Hogg’s script also manages to maintain the focus of the narrative on Julie, with Anthony’s addiction shown to affect not only her relationship with him but also her film making, ensuring that her character isn’t overshadowed by Anthony’s issues; a welcome subversion of how this type of story has played out in the past. This focus provides Byrne with the screen time to fully convey Julie’s character development, from ambitious and aspiring director aiming to get her docudrama set in Sunderland off the ground, to a passive partner being used by the older, more manipulative Anthony.
Whilst not all of Hogg’s stylistic and narrative choices pay off – the use of shots of a tree-lined landscape accompanied by Byrne’s voice-over detracts from the naturalism of the rest of the film – her assured vision results in The Souvenir being highly effective as a realistic account of an abusive relationship that avoids the usual stylistic and narrative cliches associated with such stories.