Butterfly Collectors (1990)


Butterfly Collectors is a made-for-British television series that promises a great deal but then fails to deliver. Ultimately disappointing, the story explores the complicated relationship between a middle-aged policeman John Mckeown (Pete Postlethwaite) soured by his personal life and by his job and Dex Lister (Jamie Draven) a teenager who’s picking up the considerable slack left by his absent mother.

The film begins at night with two young men running away from the scene of a crime. Police investigating the murder of a junkyard owner arrest Dex and his friend Billy (Ben Crompton). At first Mckeown thinks he’s dealing with a typical scenario–a robbery that ends in murder committed by two young thugs. Then he accidentally discovers that Dex is bringing up his younger brother and sister alone. With his father dead and his prostitute mother missing, Dex not only makes ends meet, but keeps the home immaculate. Mckeown can’t help but be impressed by Dex, and he becomes convinced that Dex is innocent of murder.

Mckeown becomes involved with Dex, befriending him and employing him to replace tile in his home. Gradually Mckeown goes out farther and farther on a limb for Dex–lying to Social Services and even engaging in petty crime. But then some discrepancies in Dex’s story cause Mckeown to question the teenager’s innocence, and he begins to suspect that Dex may have murdered his parents. The friendship, undermined by suspicion and distrust rapidly unravels….

All of the film makes sense up to this point, and the first episode was intriguing. It’s fairly easy to believe that Mckeown, already soured by his job and alienated from the rest of the police force, would see an opportunity to ‘make a difference.’ Dex and his siblings seem to offer a perfect chance for Mckeown–almost a second chance really–to make up for the disappointments in his own life.

But by the second episode, the plot unravels as it takes off in some rather silly directions, and the conclusion offers one of the most disappointing sellouts I’ve seen in a long time. After leading us up the garden path as to the facts about the murder of the junkyard owner and Dex’s complicated motives and involvement, the plot takes a silly, implausible turn. Ultimately, the plot played around with Dex’s character far too much. Not to mention all the loose ends left as the credits roll….

The film is set in Manchester and includes a range of accents. I had no problem following the dialogue, but the person who watched the film with me complained about ‘not getting’ a great deal of the dialogue. From director Jean Stewart.


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Filed under British, British television

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