Review: Border Queen / Cert: TBA / Director: Stefano Nurra, Fabio Paladini / Screenplay: Stefano Nurra, Fabio Paladini / Starring: Rosie MacPherson, James Bryce, Daniel Watson, Manjot Sumal / Release Date: TBA
An independently produced TV pilot, Border Queen was made as an industry calling card to showcase the vision of creators Stefano Nurra and Fabio Paladini, and is the debut release from Anita Norfolk’s Dusty9 Productions.
Circling one another are a number of individuals: Kate, an exhausted housewife and mother with a frequently absent husband; Lou, an apathetic dream interpreter for low-rent late night TV; Shane, an angry young man with a mysterious past; Laura, the organiser of Awakeners, a loose association of lucid dreamers wanting to discuss and develop their experiences; and Magnus, an executive at CrossCom, a technology company hunting for the next niche market. Binding them is the existence of the Border, an intangible expanse formed of the collective unconscious from which those with enough control can open gateways to realms beyond.
Revolving around the power of dreams (in a literal sense rather than motivational poster rhetoric), Border Queen’s jigsaw of interlocking plotlines weaves a mesmerising story that reveals only a sliver of a much wider tale. Secrets of the past and revelations to come are hinted at, but for now we’re given only a tantalising glimpse of the saga as the ambitions of its players each take a leap closer to realisation.
Despite many of the characters having nothing direct to do with one another, everyone links together in a chain of association. Their actions all stem from trying to reach the Border for their own purposes, be it knowledge, power, experience or travel. Only Kate remains without motive, but her control over her own dreams is the key to realising everybody else’s goals, thus making her the central piece in what will become a multi-handed game of shifting power plays.
Despite being filmed in Edinburgh, the city’s postcard skylines so beloved of visiting directors are deliberately avoided (although you can briefly make out the Salisbury Crags in one shot). The location shooting instead utilises cramped backstreets, generic council estates and graffiti-strewn abandoned buildings, giving the setting a cloak of anonymity. Given the theme of desire to escape from the drudgery of reality, it’s a wise stylistic choice that allows the urban desolation to act as a muted colourless counterpoint to the scenic expanse of Kate’s dreamscape exploration. While unlikely to be intentional, the clashing accents of the principal cast only add to geographical disassociation.
The potential conflict of old forms of magic (Lou’s alchemy) with new (CrossCom’s brainwave-manipulating phones) and metaphysical (the lucid dreaming of the Awakeners) may become a recurring theme offering contrast of the traditional and the modern both striving for the same result using different methods. After all, what is magic if not merely the ability to perform feats that others don’t understand the operation of?
Subtle and taciturn yet indicative of an extensive mythology, Border Queen is the best kind of storytelling. Exposition is implied rather than imparted (the oft-overlooked rule of “show don’t tell” that all creative writers should have tattooed onto their fingers on day one), assuming enough intelligence on your part to not require everything spelled out for you. It acknowledges that all story details revealed at once would leave the episode cluttered and confusing and so reveals some of its facets at only a basic level, ready for future expansion. It asks far more questions than it provides answers for, but this leaves you hungry to know more, a desire that can only be satiated by the story’s continuation. We can only hope such a development soon comes to pass.