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‘S.A.M’ review: ‘Sexuality and disability explored in intriguing, charming love story’

'Ackley Bridge's Sam Retford and Mencap ambassador George Webster star in a new short film from Eyre and Ely.

By Will Stroude

Words: Stephen M Hornby

Two teenage schoolboys find themselves alone together for the first time, sat on the swings in a park in Manchester. Something connects. They’re both called Sam. But it’s deeper than that. 

Their home worlds, at opposite ends of the park, are very different. One Sam is from the estate. Dad’s absent. Mother is a mean alcoholic who he wishes was absent too. He has no idea what comes next in his life. 

James Kenneth Photography

The other Sam is from the posh houses and wants to go to dance college. His parents are way too present. They respond to his Down’s Syndrome with an over-protectiveness that stifles him and, more important, any chance he has of getting some action.

Life isn’t easy for either of these Sams, but the park is a sort of oasis. And the swings provide them with a special place where they can find meet up, chat and explore, finding out who they are and what they mean to each other. And all the different possible meanings of S.A.M

Both Sams are captivating. 

James Kenneth Photography

Sam from the estate is played brilliantly by Sam Retford, recently seen in Channel Four’s Ackley Bridge. Retford has worked with directors and writers Eyre and Ely before, playing the lead in their wonderful stage production of Closets: The Musical in 2018.

Here, Retford plays every moment of inner torment and outer joy with skill and nuance, creating a real journey for his character, always a challenge in a short film.

George Webster plays Sam from the posh houses with a calm assurance and wonderful screen presence. He gives his Sam an emotional availability that Retford matches to make their romantic journey credible and heart-warming.

James Kenneth Photography

Working with the learning disability charity Mencap, Ely and Eyre have also carefully considered how to work in inclusive ways behind the camera as well as in front of it. They hope to use this short-film as a proof of concept to expand S.A.M into a full-length film. There are a series of cameos from a strong supporting cast (including Hollyoaks’ David Tag) which each hint at a wider story that could be told if they’re successful.

As it is, Eyre and Ely have crafted an intriguing love story that’s winsome, charming and beautifully performed.

‘S.A.M’ will be free to view online as part of the Iris Prize LGBT+ Film Festival from on 6-11 October.  There is also a Q&A hosted online by Lloyd Daniels as part of the opening night festival prior to streaming.