Samuel Coleridge is credited with introducing the phrase “having an albatross around your neck” into the vernacular with his poem “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Interestingly, Coleridge was also one of the first documented cases of severe writer’s block. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
Let’s leave Coleridge and his opium dreams for the moment, and jump now from 1798 to 2011, when the release of the movie Albatross shows us that not much has changed. English writers still have albatrosses around their necks. In this film we have a middle-aged man, Jonathan who has been blocked for 20 years, after the startling success of his first novel. A horrid case of second novel syndrome, Isle of Man style. Ever determined, he labors fruitlessly in his office and suffers the caustic insults of his frustrated wife, Joa, who keeps the family afloat by running their big house as a B&B.
Enter the new maid; a brazen, adventurous and funny 17 year old girl, Emelia Doyle, who lets slip that she is the great-grandaughter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Intrigued by her talent and fed up with trying to write, Jonathan begins giving her creative writing lessons with a missionary zeal. Then, as is often the case with elder mentors and their younger charges, missionary zeal turns into missionary position and the plot heats up.
Jonathan’s albatross was the success of his first novel. It ruined him as a writer. His block is an albatross for Joa, who has to struggle to pay the bills and live with a depressed, non-productive, and eventually unfaithful husband. Emelia’s albatross is her mother’s suicide and her literary lineage, which she feels she can never live up to. Multiple dead albatrosses hanging around multiple necks. And nobody’s writing.
So – how does it end? Let’s just say that there is a completed manuscript shown in the final scene, so all is well. This is a bittersweet, funny, well-acted movie, and if Coleridge was alive today, he’d probably enjoy taking a few puffs, watching Albatross on Netflix, and marveling at how much life his big, dead bird still has.