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The Souvenir Part II review – Joanna Hogg’s stellar sequel enriches the original

This masterful follow-up sees the return of Honor Swinton Byrne as Julie, a Hogg proxy on a mission to make sense of a tragic death

Since making her first feature film in 2007, director Joanna Hogg has become a key force in a stylish new wave of British filmmaking. Following Unrelated, Archipelago, and Exhibition, a trilogy of films about middle class strife, Hogg turned her gaze inwards to tell the story of an influential failed relationship of her youth. That became The Souvenir, a remarkable, sad romance that served as a defibrillator for the UK’s flailing film industry. Its follow-up, The Souvenir Part II, is just as good – a stellar sequel in its own right that also enriches and deepens the story of the original.

One again starring Honor Swinton Byrne as Hogg proxy Julie, Part II follows the young heroine as she processes the death of ex-boyfriend Anthony (Tom Burke) and all that he left behind – or didn’t. It begins shortly after the events of The Souvenir, with Julie at film school and still in a kind of stupor, lacking Anthony’s enthralling, occasionally manipulative behaviour to keep her busy. In lieu of therapy, where she has little luck, Julie ponders Anthony’s part in her life via her graduation film (think the Annie Hall scene where Alvy turns his failed relationship into a one-sided play, except a lot sadder). The trouble is, Julie can’t make a film about something she doesn’t understand, much to the frustration of cinematographers and actors Pete (Harris Dickinson) and Garance (Ariane Labed). The soul searching must go on.

Luckily, she has help. He mother Rosalind (Tilda Swinton) is a warmer and less brutish figure than before, presumably now wearing kid gloves with her vulnerable daughter. That’s less true of Patrick, Richard Ayoade’s insufferable hotshot filmmaker, who plays a bigger role this time around (the now-memed scene in which he yells, “You are forcing me to have a tantrum,” is but a glimpse.) And her most trusted ally is producer Marland (Jaygann Ayeh), who speaks up for her in a terse meeting with film school leaders and on an equally terse set. All shine.

Well-cast new entrants include a roster of Julie’s single-syllabled love interests: Pete, Jim (Charlie Heaton) and Max (Joe Alwyn). Though London’s seedy underbelly now features much less with Anthony out of the picture, The Souvenir Part II unravels as a raunchier, sometimes cruder effort in which Julie dates, flirts and fucks. Hogg does a particularly good job of framing the three boys with Julie’s own nervous desire – and sadness when things don’t work out, as they sometimes do.

Still, Part II carries all the skill and confidence we might expect from a seasoned pro like Hogg. To see Julie slowly morph into that filmmaker is riveting. This much is clear in Julie’s growing confidence to experiment visually, which Hogg does here in tandem. Switching between film and digital formats almost scene-by-scene, Hogg evokes nostalgia then boredom then excitement, depending on Julie’s mood. She claims that idea came from Derek Jarman, who she bumped into in a Soho Patisserie Valerie in the '80s and was never the same filmmaker again. But it’s not all Jarman: one particularly ambitious sequence, which it’s better to go in knowing little about, could be straight out of Powell and Pressburger. Hogg’s vision of '80s London and even the British character may be somewhat austere, but her serving of colour throughout both films has been generous and rewarding.

That’s not to detract from the subtle rhythms of The Souvenir films' storytelling. The most important line in the first entry came when Julie and Anthony visited the Wallace Collection gallery, where Anthony later overdoses. They stare at Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s painting of the same name, which depicts a lonesome village girl named – yes – Julie. “She looks sad,” our own Julie observes, mournfully. Anthony replies: “I think she looks determined. And very much in love.” If The Souvenir was about sadness, The Souvenir Part II is about determination – and, yes, love, too.

The sky is seemingly the limit for a filmmaker who has fully come into her own, whether going forward she chooses to mine the autographical or seeks out less personal stories. But with these two features, it's hard to shake the feeling she might have already made her masterpieces.

The Souvenir Part II is in UK cinemas from 4 February.

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