Son of Rambow: British Shortbread

Year Released: 2008
Directed by: Garth Jennings
Starring: Bill Milner, Will Poulter, Jules Sitruk
(PG-13, 95 min.)

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up" Pablo Picasso

This fantasy world is not Narnia, Neverland, or even the jungles of Nam, as the title might imply. In fact, it’s not a place at all, but a moment in time where the flights of boyhood imagination test their wings before the winds of change cascade them to the sacrosanct dogmas of adolescence.

Will (Bill Milner) manages to escape the confines of his strict religious upbringing by withdrawing to an old shed that houses the last possessions of his now dead father, befriending the two mice who live there, and searching through his father’s pockets for some memento of the man. Besides the mice, his best friends are Will’s fantasy drawings that illuminate his Bible like mythical monsters swimming in a sea of pious pronouncements.

That is, until he meets Lee Carter (Will Pouter), the school bad boy who not only lives outside the rules that forbid Will television, movies, and music, but even outside the relatively lax rules of 1980’s rural England. Pockets are there to be picked, lies are a second tongue, and pensioner’s piggybanks are his for the taking, as well as Will’s dead father’s watch, which soon finds its way into Lee’s possession. 

It seems oddly fitting that the religious loner’s first real friend is a profligate and that his first experience with film is a baptism of fire in the form of a pirated version of Rambo: First Blood. Like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the two create a world of their own as they join forces to make their own cinematic statement, with Will in the role of the action hero’s son, looking for his long lost father.

The two soon go beyond “reel” friends to full fledged blood brothers, sealing the oath with a none too clean knife along the river bank. Carter hints at just a touch of vulnerability beneath his bluster, especially in the scenes with his own older brother, who treats him with the same aloof disdain that Carter tries to replicate in his dealings with Will. Will’s own experiences with the Brethren, as his religious cohorts refer to themselves, are equally unsatisfying. In fact, he would probably have preferred aloof disdain to the suffocating suppression and control they try to exert over him. In the end, the blood brotherhood between the two boys is a stronger, more authentic bond than either the familial or religious one.

The magic of this time – roughly somewhere just east of adolescence – is emphasized by the many timepieces in the film. His father’s watch is in Will’s hands only a short time before it becomes Carter’s, who packages it as an impromptu birthday present for his idolized big brother, almost as if it doesn’t belong in their world. At their meetings, the Brethren take off their watches and set them in a neat row on the table, perhaps a symbol of leaving the worldly ways behind them. Will brings an outsized windup alarm clock to his forbidden shoots with Carter, the alarm’s ring signaling his expected return to the bland confines of his rigid world. Perhaps all are a reminder of the fragile brevity of childhood’s imagination and creativity.

We also see the dreary eye of adolescence cast an envious eye toward Will and Carter’s whimsical world. Didier (Jules Sitruk), the punk rock French exchange student, who seems to have conquered his small part of England on the merits of his red disco boots alone, is suddenly enthralled with the boys’ film and asks for a role. Just like a true Hollywood magnate, he comes with his own entourage, the somewhat porcine and pimply English schoolboys who follow him in adoration. Once he joins their venture, the outsider Will achieves a special status, even gaining admittance to the Sixth Form (roughly equivalent to our last two years of high school in America) social room, a testament to the clichéd conformity of “cool,” where dress, drugged pleasures, and dance are as joyless as the Brethren’s rigid rejection of them.

Luckily we have passed the era of the child star, and these two newcomers are at once natural and poised in their roles with none of the cutesy self-awareness that often marked young performers of an earlier era. Their film within a film is a portrait of fast friendship - its petty cruelties, intense loyalty, shared delights and perceived betrayals – one well worth the viewing for discriminating filmgoers.

—Kathy Borich

Film-Loving Foodie

Will’s mother tries to explain their ascetic way of life to him by telling a childhood story. Every day on her way to school, she would walk past a bakery shop that had the most delicious aroma. And if that was not enough, there was this glorious music, almost as if Angels were singing. She was never able to hear the song again, but found its name after humming it to someone.

Somehow, Will’s mother scraped together enough money for the record and her own record player, but her parents, wisely she notes in her voice over as we see the remnants of her dream up in flames, knew what was best.

I wonder if the bakery’s sweets were off limits as well. Let’s hope that Will’s mother at least had a taste of these grand English cookies, or biscuits, as they call them. Your kitchen will soon smell as good as that bakery shop of her memories.

With only three ingredients, who can go wrong? Just follow the advice and use real butter.

British Shortbread


  • 9oz plain (all purpose) flour
  • 3oz caster sugar (superfine sugar)
  • 6oz unsalted butter (NOT MARGARINE)


Mix flour and sugar. Rub in butter and knead with warm hands until thoroughly combined and smooth (no cracks) – overwork rather than underwork.

Divide into two equal parts and press into the bottom of 2 x 7” lightly buttered cake tins (it should be quite thin). Flute edges with your knuckle. Prick all over with a fork and mark each one into six sections. Sprinkle with granulated sugar.

Bake at 160C for 30 mins. When done it should just start to brown and look a little risen and spongy. Leave to cool just a little then retrace the sections right through the shortbread (do this before it gets cold as the cake becomes very brittle and will break when you try to cut it). Turn out the sections when cold.


Contributed by Sue Barnes

Recipe Source: