LOLA (2022)

by Glenn Erickson Mar 23, 2024

It’s an ‘alternate future’ time warp tale of the kind that seldom works … but this is an exception. Andrew Legge’s modest found-footage movie serves up a rich dose of sci-fi ideas. What would you do if you could listen in on radio and TV signals from the future?  In 1940, two women use their ‘impossible’ information to thwart Germany’s bombing of England, but inadvertently set into motion unforseen time-twist problems. The way the story is told may not appeal, but it does hang together as an unusually imaginative, refreshingly rewarding time-paradox tale.

Severin Films
2022 / B&W / 1:37 Academy / 79 min. / Street Date April 30, 2024 / Available from Severin / 29.95
Starring: Emma Appleton, Stefanie Martini, Theodora Brabazon Legge, Francesca Brabazon Legge, Eva O’Brien, Rory Fleck Byrne, Aaron Monaghan, Cha Cha Seigne, Shaun Boylan.
Cinematography: Oona Menges
Production Designer: Ferdia Murphy
Art Director: Vanessa Zanardo
Costume Design: Laura Campbell
Film Editor: Colin Campbell
Original Music: Neil Hannon
Written by Angeli Macfarlane, Andrew Legge story by Legge, Jessica Ashworth, Henrietta Ashworth
Produced by Alan Maher, John Wallace
Directed by
Andrew Legge

From out of left field comes this Covid lockdown production, a found-footage creation that overachieves beyond all expectations. It’s a science-fiction tale taking place in WW2, told in fractured manner — yet an imaginative idea, good performances and some delightful surprises keep us in the throes of suspense. Two women in wartime England operate a radio-television capable of receiving transmissions from the future, and use it to help win the war … but discover that they’ve altered much more of the future than they intended to, in a very negative way.

You Really Got Me.

Andrew Legge uses the found-footage filmmaking style for LOLA, and instead of insulting our intelligence,  the style’s splintered-reality effect brings us closer to his characters, and to a story that might seem trite if told straight. It certainly would have been out of Legge’s budget price range if he shot it straight. The show begins as a no-budget affair until Legge’s digital effects deliver sequences made of altered vintage newsreel footage, intercut with extremely well-done new scenes.

LOLA is a close relation to the fantasies that alter wartime history to make a point, like Philip K. Dick’s phenomenal book The Man in the High Castle. These stories can end up as exercises with little point beyond surface thrills (The Eagle Has Landed,  The Final Countdown) or they can be as brilliant as Kevin Brownlow’s ‘amateur’ masterpiece It Happened Here, a movie initially filmed by schoolboys on weekends, motivated by access to a collectors’ bounty of authentic weapons, costumes and vehicles.

Andrew Legge has a different set of fringe-production puzzle pieces to work with, but comes through with a compelling sci-fi story that won top Festival prizes at Trieste and Sitges. The opening conceit is that a lost ‘history’ of WW2 has been pieced together through 16mm film recordings made by a pair of inventors in Sussex, starting in 1938.


The Angel of Portobello.

Thomasina ‘Thom’ Hanbury (Emma Appleton) is a brilliant original theorist. She has combined a hyper-sensitive broadcast receiver with ‘quantum physics’ to create a device she’s named LOLA, after her mother. Thom’s sister Martha ‘Mars’ (Stefanie Martini) is her inseparable partner; they marvel at their newfound ability to hear and watch broadcasts from just a few hours ahead — or ten and twenty years in the future. At first Mars simply wonders at the developments of the future, and indulges a taste for folk music and rock of the 1960s and 70s, her favorite being David Bowie. But when England is attacked by Germany, they use a clever hard-to-detect broadcast signal to warn English towns of impending air raids. They become known as ‘The Angel of Portobello.’ The women are finally tracked down by Lt. Sebastian Holloway (Rory Fleck Byrne), who accepts the possibilities of using LOLA against the Nazis. Becoming officially involved is complicated. They can’t afford to tip off the Germans that LOLA exists, and Holloway’s own superior Major Hobcroft (Aaron Monaghan) is a glory-hungry careerist.

Anticipating German battle plans turns the tide for England right away. Hobcroft accepts awards while the women work hard, and Mars and Lt. Holloway become lovers. But then things take a terrible turn for worse. They accept a message planted by the Nazis and an American ship is sunk with over 2,000 passengers. The news turns U.S. sympathy away from Britain — America won’t enter the war. Another bad message enables the Germans to successfully cross the channel and gain a foothold … and England looks set to fall. When Mars now ‘tunes in’ to her 1973 broadcast, David Bowie has been replaced by songs glorifying Fascist power…


What Would Kevin Brownlow Say?

The Found Footage format is occasionally a little frustrating — Thom has also managed to perfect sync sound 16mm filmmaking 20 years before Maysles and Company. We also wonder where they get all the film stock, during wartime, but that’s a minor issue. Naturally, Lt. Holloway also has a signal corpsman with him, filming as well … it’s like ourcell phone video era, half a century too early. The blips and snippets of grainy 16mm do give us a quick intimacy with the Hanbury women, creative eccentrics that live in an isolated country house and always seem to be drinking champagne.

Director Legge home-developed his 16mm film, and used a vintage camera to shoot his imitations of 1940s newsreel footage. As this is found footage, we see plenty of leader, raw splices and light leaks on the film, reminding us that we’re watching a compilation assembled by Mars at a later date. It works well enough until the final act, when there’s no way that our lovers, now fugitives, could possibly be accompanied by any kind of camera, let alone one recording crucial moments. But …. by that time we’re hooked on the story, cheated-footage vérité or not.

The movie’s smart, insightful play with time collisions is wonderful, with bits of the 1941 period clashing with bits of the future. Lt. Holloway is surprised when Mars uses words like ‘cool’ and ‘groovy.’ At a party celebrating another success against the Nazis, Mars prompts the band for a swing version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me.” In Back to the Future, the teens of 1955 couldn’t relate to music from 1985, but the 1941 jitterbugs go crazy for the Kinks song. With some deftly-organized CGI work, we see the song’s title converted into a patriotic slogan, and plastered on posters everywhere.

There isn’t a great deal of spectacle in the show, but a few shots of London being bombed and Big Ben engulfed in smoke look exactly like vintage newsreel footage. The same goes for scenes of Thom and Mars scapegoated as traitors, and sentenced to death.

Things becomes more complicated as the storyline bends more toward It Happened Here, with the historical U.K. Fascist Oswald Mosley imposed as the leader of a fallen England. The movie takes in a few too many new ideas at the end, but it does so in the right spirit.


Remember Tomorrow.

We’re delighted at how well LOLA plays — the parts that contemplate the collision of cultures between decades is fascinating. The technical stretches don’t offend because the actors make a solid emotional impression. The fact that the time-warp element is limited to broadcast signals really helps — hearing radio or seeing TV from the future feels more plausible than projecting a physical object through time, as with H.G. Wells or the imaginative but clumsy science fiction effort Terror from the Year 5000.

LOLA may be a small found-footage show, but its ambition and storytelling skill are big, and it pays off with an audience identification seldom found in this area of filmmaking. The snippets of invasion action — London falling — are more convincing than epic-scale CGI might be, and the enthusiasm of the Hanbury sisters for ‘future’ pop stars is infectious, especially Mars’s debut of a song 23 years before its time. But even then we’re wary of the Butterfly Effect … if Mars spreads “You Really Got Me” far and wide, what will The Kinks do for a #1 hit?



Severin’s Blu-ray of LOLA is a happy surprise. As the principals of Severin Films hail from the U.K., we’re pleased to see them distributing this festival performer. It won over quite a few critics not normally inclined toward fringe sci-fi exotica.

Andrew Legge turns out to be a fun discovery. The Irish director has so far used his short subjects and one feature to explore past film styles. Two of his short films are included as extras. The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish is a cute take-off on Chaplin-Keaton comic filmmaking; at least in his master shots Legge restricts himself to camera angles appropriate for 1916 or so. The Girl with the Mechanical Maiden is a color and widescreen short that’s even more ambitious. Fairly amazing art direction gives us two robots more charming than what Disney might come up with; one would seem inspired by the Maschine-Mann in the classic Metropolis. The storyline is a bit lopsided and unresolved, combining an Asimov tale with elements of steampunk and maybe The Secret Garden. A main part is played by actor Dominic West, recently seen by most everyone in The Crown.

Both shorts and the feature are concerned with inventions of one kind or another. According to the IMDB, another Legge short subject is about a 1930s machine that sees into the past. Even LOLA does without most conventional dialogue scenes. We’ll be interested to see what he comes up with next.


Director Legge and his producer Alan Maher participate in a quick making-of video, explaining how some scenes were inspired by what was found in stock footage libraries — all examined via the internet. The shots we see of  Oswald Mosley are apparently real newsreel footage. The protest scene with the balloons is used as an example of how Legge found similar locations so his new footage would be a good match. Legge and Maher also speak for an entire audio commentary, explaining that the shoot lasted only 26 days or so. They say that green-screen was used in many composites. The matching is excellent.

‘Polish Up Your Jackboots.”

It’s impressive how Mars doesn’t just steal music from the future, but takes its influence, as when she writes her own sixties-style folk song about remembering things that haven’t happened yet. The way she gets a 1941 dance crowd interested in ’60s discotheque dance moves is pretty funny. Legge and Maher are also pleased with the music and lyrics invented for  their ‘Fascist music sensation’ Reginald Watson (Shaun Boylan), whose voice is provided by composer Neil Hannon.

Also in the extras mix is a trailer, and an uncut take of ‘Mars’ (Stefanie Martini) singing her folk song.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Excellent but Different
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent English 5.1, English Stereo
Audio commentary with Co-writer/Director Andrew Legge and Producer Alan Maher
The Making Of LOLA
Outtake Remember Tomorrow
Short Films By Andrew Legge
The Girl with the Mechanical Maiden (2012)
The Unusual Inventions of Henry Cavendish (2005).
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? YES; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
March 22, 2024

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.

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I saw this streaming on Peacock. It’s a cool concept but the flash cutting (editing?) early on does get annoying & in the way of the story telling. A diet of cigarettes & wine is over used too. Later it settles down as the subject matter becomes more serious, a good thing. Enjoy!

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