NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! On The Line is an exciting thriller about a telephone operator, Agnes (Victoria Lucie), who cannot help herself as a volunteer rescuer and a therapist to callers. Agnes is the only on-screen character. The young woman is about to enter a marriage and operates from the basement of a telephone facility on a seemingly small island in the U.K. set in the early 1960s. It’s a stormy evening, and the dailiness of plugging and switching people into conversations, including the police station, is the status quo. Casual conversations and some eavesdropping appear harmless until a frantic and distressed call comes in from a woman named Martha (Joanne Rogers).
With the lingering aftermaths of World War II, Agnes chats with folks about life and things in general until she is a conduit to an alarming situation. She connects to the police department, which would not like her involved, giving her a surly attitude. As more calls come in, Agnes becomes hooked into a situation that sounds dangerous. Harold (Royce Pierreson) seemingly appears to have abducted Martha from a senior home leaving Shirley (Harriet Walter) and her husband Walter to fend for themselves.
As the only lifeline, Agnes tries to understand the situation involving the police and fiancé Frank (Thomas Bliss) to help Shirley and Martha to safety from Harold, or so it seems. As a test of her integrity and understanding of relationships as a woman about to marry, we learn that Agnes suffers from losing her best friend and bridesmaid. Offering her calming and therapeutic exercises to stave off the fear of the drama happening across the telephone wires, Agnes faces the trauma of her best friend’s suicide.
“…eavesdropping appear harmless until a frantic and distressed call comes in…”
With all the excitement and engagement, it turns out that Harold, Shirley, and Martha are battling their demons, unhappiness, and loss. All this is happening in one place with only Agnes as she marks off places on a map where the action is happening, takes smoking breaks, and suffers alone.
On The Line reminds me of a Nancy Drew mystery. A curious, persistent, and somewhat naïve Agnes is properly dressed and groomed, working in soft and slightly smoky light, a monotoned ecru and light green décor. Frank, a levelheaded young man, is at her side to follow instructions without drama, and, in the end, Agnes finds a solution, even if it’s not a happy one. However, what makes this important is that it is a message for mental health awareness and suicide prevention done in a remarkable and memorable construct.
Lucie carries this one-woman film exceptionally well, and the radio show-type voice set-up is well executed. It is professionally carried out with significant sound effects, mood music and tone, and nice camera movement and angles for such a confined space. Director and writer Oliver Pearn did his research and did not miss a beat to recreate the time and place of On The Line, especially to feel a great deal of action is happening that you never see.
"…Lucie carries this one-woman film..."