It is 4pm, and Kerrie (Laura Bayston) is closing up for the day at the greasy spoon which was previously run by her father, and before that by his father. This empty, faded establishment is something of a time warp. For it has layers, with old black-and-white pictures and tattered posters alongside newer framed football kit and photos of Kerrie’s father and her little son Lenny, both of whom have recently died. It has seen better days, but Kerrie keeps it ticking over.
Soon Kerrie is dancing along to the Searchers’ version of Needles and Pins (1964), which has just come on the radio. It’s a golden oldie, even as the shop’s interior is bathed in the melancholic golden light of late afternoon. Despite the ‘closed’ sign on the door, a well-dressed old man (Larry Lamb) – very much of the ‘old school’ – enters as though he owns the place. Although he claims to be “just passing through”, this Cockney clearly is – or at least once was – a local to this South East London neighbourhood, and Kerrie is sure she recognises him from somewhere, but just can’t place it. “I’m sure it’ll pop in sooner or later,” he tells her – and as they talk, and his questions, though polite, become ever more intimate and intrusive, Kerrie warms to this man from out of the past, even as she subtly expresses her abiding grief at the loss of both her father and son.
Bayston starred in Paul Holbrook‘s previous short films Hungry Joe (2020) and Hollow (2021) – but this is the first time that she has written a story for him (and herself). Old Windows is a subtly drawn two-hander – a conversation across the generations, across time even, about the ‘family business’ (“I like that,” the old man says, “Family look out for each other”), about the dust of history that can accumulate in a place, and about the peculiar legacy of community.
“Your secret’s safe with me,” says the old man, after Kerrie confides that she often buys in her cakes from elsewhere. Old Windows also keeps its secrets. Although there are hints of a solution to the mystery, the identity of the old man remains an enigma to the end. Yet what he seems to know, and what he leaves behind from his brief visit, suggest that this wistful drama may be concealing the shadowy outline of a cold crime, and the barest whisper of a haunting, as old debts are repaid, and some small consolation for sorrow is offered from across the old windows of time.
strap: In Paul Holbrook’s melancholic short, a grieving mother is visited in her cafe by a mysterious old stranger
© Anton Bitel