HANDSOME DEVIL Better The Devil You Know


Directed by John Butler
Starring Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine, Andrew Scott


Handsome Devil may be a small budget feel-good film, but each element is in the exact right proportion to enhance the other. The result is something special.

Loosely inspired by writer/ director John Butler’s own school days, Handsome Devil is a tale about two opposites that become room-mates in high-school. Ned is into music (despite only knowing one chord for his guitar), excels at English, detests his school, and is taunted by his classmates for being gay. Conner is a discipline problem from another school, but is magic on the rugby field. That alone is enough to put him in good stead socially in the sports obsessed school. Forced together, the two opposites become reluctant friends, although the scheming of both teachers and students come to threaten that.

The script is a well paced crowd pleaser, with a degree of emotional resonance and some frightfully funny dialogue. The actors connect with the script and the characters, allowing for a few stunning performances, and a number of solid supporting roles. The visual styling plays to the bright blue and yellow school colours, allowing everything to pop on the screen. Combined with a few cinematic and editing tricks (split screen is used heavily here to good effect), and there is a restless energy in this film that propels it forward. Handsome Devil may not break rules or forge a new path, but it does what it needs to do, with a solid understanding of the genre.

Fionn O’Shea and Nicholas Galitzine, put in a fine performance as the two central protagonists. O’Shea really leads the way as the nebbish Ned, his quipping verbal style and his obvious dissatisfaction set the tone for the film, acting as our narrator and point of view. By contrast Galitzine is often lost under the “golden boy” persona of his character, but really shines when those cracks appear in the facade, and we see his self doubt and fragility. Here we can see some depth in the young actor, and a range of emotions can come into play.

Yet the scene stealer of the show is of course, Andrew Scott (as you would expect from the actor that plays the completely over the top Moriarty in Sherlock). Playing an inspirational English teacher (“Oh captain, my captain”) he has the ability to give an audaciously large performance. Yet the real revelation here is again those quieter moments of self doubt, and feelings of hypocrisy. In one sequence his plaintive refrain of “it gets better” is made heartbreaking in it’s delivery by the realisation that he is doubting his own words. It’s a small thing, at odds with Scott’s usual bravo, but it is revelatory as to his range.

Of late we’ve seen a return to prominence for the high-school movie genre, with Sing Street and Edge Of Seventeen being fine examples of the form. Handsome Devil sits comfortably with its countryman, giving us a feel-good experience with a bit of genuine heart and soul, and a Gaelic lilt.