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Loving Annabelle
cast: Erin Kelly, Diane Gaidry, Ilene Graff, and Kevin McCarthy

director: Katherine Brooks

77 minutes (15) 2006
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
TLA DVD Region 2 retail
[released 14 January]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Barbara Davies
When US senator's daughter Annabelle Tillman (Erin Kelly) arrives at Saint Theresa's, she's already been expelled from two other schools. If she doesn't toe the line at this Catholic boarding school for girls, even though she's not Catholic herself, her next stop could be military school. But that doesn't stop the charismatic, rebellious teenager from falling in love with poetry teacher Simone Bradley (Diane Gaidry), who is also in charge of Annabelle's dorm and, unlike the school's strict Sisters, allows her charges to order pizza and stay up late at the weekends.

Annabelle decides to woo Simone, starting her campaign with a huge bunch of red roses. And Simone's ever-present frown deepens as she finds her determined and completely inappropriate young suitor increasingly hard to resist. It doesn't help that Simone's appeals to Mother Immaculata (Ilene Graff) for someone else to take over Annabelle's supervision are turned down. Or that Simone's relationship with Michael, who teaches at the boys' school, is heading for the rocks, for reasons crystal clear to us, but not to him. For while there's zero chemistry between Simone and her baffled boyfriend, the same cannot be said of Simone and Annabelle...

Katherine Brooks acknowledges that she took inspiration for Loving Annabelle from the classic 1931 German film Maedchen In Uniform. Transposing that story to the present day doesn't entirely work, however, as it's hard to credit that Simone would become a teacher at the boarding school she herself attended and willingly remain inside the repressive, controlling sphere of influence of Mother Immaculata, who is also, rather too coincidentally, her aunt. Annabelle also seems too mature, resourceful, and competent a young woman to allow herself to be stranded during spring break at the boarding school by her senator mother, though the situation does provides a golden opportunity for a change of scenery as it allows pupil and teacher to head for the coast.

Having said that, Kelly (Finding Kate) and Gaidry (The Dogwalker) are both utterly believable as the romantic leads, with a repertoire of speaking silences and looks that make sparks fly whenever they are on screen together. It becomes clear fairly early on where things are heading, but this atmospheric film grips like a slow motion car crash, and I found myself willing Simone to loosen up and give in to Annabelle's advances - who could resist the love song Annabelle writes and sings for her at the end of year dance? - even as I dreaded the inevitable repercussions.

Laura Breckenridge, Gustine Fudickar, and Michelle Horn provide able support as Annabelle's dorm buddies: wrist-cutting, porcupine-keeping Colins; loudmouthed, pot smoking Cat; and the thankfully more ordinary Kristen, respectively. The cameo by Kevin McCarthy (Invasion Of The Body Snatchers) is less successful. I suspect his Father Harris was intended to provide a sympathetic contrast to the forbidding Mother Immaculata, but something got lost on the cutting room floor, because he comes across as irrelevant and his sermons to the girls about, for example, frogs swimming in butter churns verge on the risible.

DVD extras: alternative ending, featurette, blooper reel, deleted scenes, and trailers.

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