Monday, February 8, 2010

Movie Review: Wheatley Manor

Northern Spanking Films (released in 2009)

Entire Story In Fewer Words Than Are In This Sentence:
They have rules at the manor, and particular ways

Victim Appeal:
In this category, "Wheatley Manor" might very well be the single most outstanding video I have reviewed so far. It stars Amelia-Jane Rutherford, Amy Hunter, Leia-Ann Woods and the now (sadly) retired Niki Flynn - four of their generation's best spanking actresses in the UK. The term actress really applies to each of them, especially here. It is readily apparent that "Wheatley Manor" is a labour of love from everyone involved, that they tried to create something good not just as spanking porn, but as a film. Which is how things ought to be, really, but it's still something you see much too rarely in our industry.

Because this is a labour of love, one needs to mention prominently all the collaborators behind it, not just the "professional victims". The film is directed by Lucy McLean of Northern Spanking, the story was created by Stephen Lewis. Stephen also stars as the main male top, with Henry Higgins making a cameo appearance.

Gratuitous Sadism:
"Wheatley Manor" has a running time of 2 hours 51 minutes (not including the ample bonus material), so it is a truly epic movie. I'm not going to recount every single scene here. Not only would it make the review indigestibly long, it would also give away too much - I don't want to spoil one of the few spanking films where the story and the characters are just as interesting as the action.

Suffice to briefly describe the basic scenario: Amelia-Jane, Niki and Leia are friends who know each other from school. On Leia's suggestion (she has been there before), they sign up for a week at Wheatley Manor. The other two think that they are in for a nice spa holiday, but of course, it turns out to be far more unusual than that. As Miss Hunter, one of the hosts, explains to the three friends on arrival: "You will find that Wheatley Manor has a very... particular regime. It is a lovely house with many activities, and I am sure you will learn a lot about yourselves here." Then she hands them the uniforms which they are supposed to wear at all times.

As one might imagine, Amelia-Jane and Niki are rather freaked out by the prospect. Amelia-Jane, in particular, being the most assertive and willful of the three, wants no part of it initially. However, she decides to stay (simply to prove that she can handle it, one suspects), and in time, she too benefits from the regime at Wheatley Manor. In the words of Professor Lewis, who runs the place: "Our job at Wheatley Manor is to go through your file, look at your personality traits, decide what you need for the benefit of you and your future." Of course, what is needed usually includes corporal punishment.

I'm not even sure if I should do the "body count" which I usually have in this section, recording the exact number of cane strokes or the minutes that an OTK spanking lasted. This is not the point of "Wheatley Manor". Actually, the first spanking in the film takes place off-screen (it is heard, but not seen), and parts of later scenes occur off-screen as well. How does one count that?

But I'll give you a rough overview of the CP action, because you will undoubtedly want to know about that. Needless to say, all three visitors receive hand spankings and bare bottom canings (also canings over their knickers, but let's not go into too much detail for the purpose of this list!). Niki is whacked with a wooden spoon when she is late for dinner. Amelia-Jane gets her bottom flogged by Stephen Lewis. There is some bastinado for Niki and Leia (with Henry Higgins, faceless, as the "Bastinado Host"), and a hand tawsing for Amelia-Jane. The movie has a roughly equal mix of M/F and F/F, the latter with Amy Hunter as the top. Amy also gets a caning from Professor Lewis because she broke one of the house rules herself, and at the end, she is paddled and caned by Nki and Leia in a role reversal. Followed by the very last spanking of "Wheatley Manor", but I am not going to spoil that for you... The severity throughout the film is what I would call medium, and comparable to what you usually see on the Northern Spanking website.

Best Reactions:
As much as I love Niki Flynn as a professional victim and as a friend, she was always too loud for my taste during her CP scenes. Too much over-acting. The same applies, to a lesser degree, to Amelia-Jane Rutherford. On the other hand, I always enjoyed Leia-Ann Wood's teeth-clenching reactions a lot, which are usually subtly angry and subtly lustful at the same time. The contrast is especially striking when you have all of them in one movie. Predictably, then, I like Leia's scenes best here, and Amy Hunter's. Leia receiving a sort of "welcome caning" from Professor Lewis towards the beginning of the film is my favourite scene of all in terms of action and reaction. I'm going to do the "body count" for that one at least: she gets 12 strokes (on-screen, that is, with more being heard from off-screen).

Best Line:
There is a lot of great, witty dialogue in "Wheatley Manor", thanks to Stephen Lewis' wonderful script. However, the line I liked best of all appears very straightforward at first sight, a bit bland, even. When Miss Hunter welcomes the three guests, they inquire what the theme, the concept of the manor is. "I want to know what this is about!" exclaims an increasingly exasperated Amelia-Jane. Miss Hunter replies: "Wheatley Manor is about you." As I said, there are far wittier, funnier lines in the film, but this one is awesome nonetheless. Ominous, ambiguous, and encapsulating the whole film, in a way.

Nice Psychological Touch:
The whole concept of "self-improvement through unorthodox methods" is a psychologically nice idea to begin with. It isn't exactly new in the realm of spanking videos, but I've never seen it done in quite this form before, and rarely with such well-written characters. It is obvious that Stephen Lewis tailor-made all the parts specifically and affectionately for the four actresses: Niki as the shy, awkward girl, Leia as the enigmatic, slightly freaky, but loveable one, Amelia-Jane as the headstrong princess and Amy as the head girl of sorts. They all pretty much appear "as themselves" here (or rather, as their public personas, half-real and half-fictional). From start to finish, "Wheatley Manor" lives from these contrasting, at times clashing personalities, and from the interpersonal dynamics.

There is a great, extended scene at the beginning which I liked in particular. One after the other (first Leia, then Niki, then Amelia-Jane), the girls visit the office of Professor Lewis, to get a welcome talk (and a welcome caning). Each time, what goes on inside the office is juxtaposed with the whispered conversation between the two girls who remain outside and listen in on what is happening. It is a wonderfully written and edited sequence, and stylistically interesting (they use subtitles for the whispered conversation, with different colours for the three characters, patterned after the colours of the ribbons they are wearing). Most importantly, though, it does a great job of bringing out the individual personalities, introducing the past histories of the characters and setting the stage for everything that is about to follow.

How Good Is It Really?
"Wheatley Manor" has immediately established itself as one of my favourite spanking films. In terms of action, it isn't all that spectacular, actually - Leia's welcome caning and the last scene with Amy Hunter getting her comeuppance from the other three girls are very hot indeed, but the other spankings are merely good, not great. As a film, however, this one stands on a level that very few others reach. The craftsmanship is good, the writing is excellent and the cast is outstanding (certainly the best ensemble performance I have reviewed so far). There are funny moments, sexy moments, dark moments, and it all blends well because of the setting - most films that have one ballet lesson scene and one interrogation scene would probably feel artificial, but they fit together organically here. The result is a three hour epic that captivates during (almost) every second.

In addition to the main feature, "Wheatley Manor" includes a bonus disc with 92 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, outtakes, interviews with all the main collaborators and an alternate ending.

What You Learned:
I liked Stephen Lewis as a top when I saw him on Northern Spanking and Bars and Stripes, but he never figured that high on my radar as a writer. Now he does.


Anonymous said...

I just don't get it. Who do they think will buy this mild stuff? Punished Brats fans?

Leia-Ann Woods said...

Jack - there is more to Corporal Punishment than to beat someone half to death. Take the psychological side for instance?!

Leia xxx

Pandora Blake said...

Great review. I got this back from the friend I'd lent it to on Saturday and was considering re-watching it. I have a couple of lady-friends I think might enjoy it...

Did you not find the ballerina scene hot? I agree with you that the spankings were, in general, not the most intense/interesting feature of this film, if only because the setting and characters were so engrossing, but that and AJR's hand-tawsing REALLY pressed my buttons.

Ludwig said...

@ Jack: If you want graphic cane welts and girls screaming in pain, there are other producers out there who will satisfy your desires - and I've reviewed many such videos on my blog. Personally, I like the wicked sadistic stuff, but I also like to see a good erotic CP *film*, one that has a story and acting, one that is interesting psychologically and stylistically. My tastes aren't limited to just one thing. And in the *film* department, "Wheatley Manor" is extraordinary.

Also, while the spankings in "Wheatley Manor" aren't Lupus Pictures-style, I wouldn't exactly call them light (I would call them medium, just as I did in the review!). The canings produce some faint marks, for instance, and as I can tell you from personal experience, even that isn't easy on a bottom as "well-practised" as Niki Flynn's. The flogging Amelia-Jane gets is quite serious, too.

@ Pandora: I liked the ballerina scene and thought it was hot, but not super-hot. It all comes down to personal taste, I suppose - I know of many viewers who have a special fondness for ballerina scenes, but I don't, even though I like them well enough. I'm not a huge fan of hand tawsings, either.

As I wrote, I did find Leia's caning scene towards the beginning very hot, mostly because of her reactions. The scene with Amy Hunter at the end was wonderful as well, because of the interpersonal "group" dynamics and the whole atmosphere. So these two are the ones that really stood out for me.

"I agree with you that the spankings were, in general, not the most intense/interesting feature of this film, if only because the setting and characters were so engrossing."

That is my thinking as well - the fact that the spankings don't seem all that spectacular is less of a reflection on the action scenes themselves (which are good), it is mostly a result of how captivating the rest of the film is.

Lucy McLean said...

When we set out to make Wheatley Manor, I wanted it to be more about the story and the journey of the characters and be more plot driven. To that end, it was my aim as the Director for the CP action to seem almost incidental to the plot, rather than the driver of the film. Getting that balance between story, whilst still making what is essentially a CP film, is not easy.

And it NEVER would have been achieved without the combined talents of the girls involved, Stephen and also my DP, Billy - who had a lot of input into the development of each scene, interesting and captivating shots, and the stunning photography.

Thank you for the review Ludwig, we really appreciate your honest, and are actually stunned that it came up to your high expectations. And very pleased!

Ludwig said...

@ Lucy: I'm glad you like the review. You certainly created a special film there. It deserves a special review, and I think this is one of the better ones (in terms of writing and overall "flow") that I have done recently.

"Getting that balance between story, whilst still making what is essentially a CP film, is not easy."

No, it isn't easy. For me, spanking films are *genre* films - in a way, not very different from action films, horror films or other such genres. The point is, a good film will aim to *transcend* its chosen genre, to do things one wouldn't necessarily expect. At the same time, though, it is still a *genre* film, so there are certain conventions and expectations that have to be met. And they have to be met well! Otherwise, it is not a good *spanking* film.

I think you managed to navigate the tightrope pretty well in this one.

Caroline Grey said...

I love this movie so very much. I have to say that Wheatley Manor has infiltrated a LARGE percentage of my private fantasy life ever since I saw it. This review makes me want to watch it again. I'm having the porny-est week ever!