Independent Critics

unsung films

          Writer Angeliki Coconi at Dec 23rd 2012
“We have grown accustomed to short films being amateur to such an extent that the term “short” has become firmly linked to terms such as “experimental” or even “amateurish”. Of Guilt & Grief (The Garden) is a glorious exception. Tom van den Broek’s 15-minute independent British short film is on par with major feature studio productions, and his story, direction, cast and delivery sets an impossible quality standard for short films as we’ve known them until now.
Tom van den Broek’s film tells the story of Simeon, who, after years of being tortured by guilt and grief because of a horrible crime he committed, finally kills himself and dies alone in his bed. After his death, Simeon is transported to the garden of “Jannah”, where he meets his family again, as well as the woman he killed. Past, present and future keep alternating, with jealousy, disappointment and rage serving as the eternal backdrop from which Simeon cannot escape.
The themes explored in Tom van den Broek’s film are powerful, timeless and also very difficult to cover in just under 15 minutes. But the writer-director not only lives up to the challenge he has set for himself, he also exceeds everyone’s expectations. The opening images and lines lay down an ambitious story base — one soaked in jealousy that only finds slight relief in the Islamic afterlife.
Passion, rage, ego, distrust, frustration and regret have taken over Simeon, who starts as merely half a character, and ends up entirely swallowed up by all these disproportionately negative feelings. His mind wanders, his body weakens, his passion takes over. He’s a tortured man — and his crime, he could never escape.
Stuart Adams is excellent in the role of Simeon. A very talented actor, Adams is not afraid to become his character — with everything that this may entail. He is bold and stands his ground. He breaks down, while still occupying the entire screen. Never does his character’s pain make him look small, never does the actor allow Simeon to stop fighting — even during the ultimate yielding to his guilt.
Eloise Black as Celestina and Jess Collins as Victoria are also impressive. Authentic and absorbing, they have their audience’s eyes fixed on them whenever they appear. Silky smooth in their performances, they are beautifully ruthless and come across almost apologetic in their lack of sympathy. The cast works great as a team, with every character occupying just the right space for the story to be told in the most effective way possible, and jealousy to shine as the main antagonist.
A great short rarely comes along. And Tom van den Broek’s Of Guilt & Grief will make it even rarer, as very few experimental filmmakers will want to compete with this from now on. But when a truly great independent short is made, it reminds its audience of the true art that can be found in the most underrated cinema areas. Very British and compelling in every way — the garden (Of Guilt & Grief) is definitely something to look out for.”



strangers in a cinema

   Editor Paul               Jan 17th 2013    
“A British independent short from director Tom Van den Broek is a brave film as it takes a micro budget production and applies to a period piece. Thankfully it pays off.
From the outset it is the clear that the film has an solid emotional core, based around the concept of Jannah, which is the Islamic concept of paradise, similar in some ways to the Christian concept of heaven.  Simeon (Stuart Adams) having taken his own life is forced to confront to his crimes and attempt to make peace with his victims. Saying much more than that would give away too much detail in what is a powerful story.
Visually the film is absolutely stunning, it is a genuinely beautiful film and the fact that this visual impact has been pulled off with a meagre budget is of massive credit to the filmmaking team behind the project. The period scenes look utterly convincing and whilst viewing this film it’s easy to forget that you aren’t watching a lavishly funded British period drama.
The actors are also superb, its a fairly deep concept to get your head around just watching the film so it can’t have been easy to deliver this material. The emotion conveyed feels utterly genuine and the audience will take every step of Simeons’  emotional journey with him. The supporting players acting is of an equally high standard, Eloise Black and Jessica Felicity Collins keep you glued to the screen and their tumultuous relationship with Simeon drives the emotional punch that the film has.
Mention has to be made of the non-linear narrative, which in a fifteen minute running time is a bold decision indeed but once again its a risk that was worth taking. Undoubtedly one has to pay attention or risk confusion but if you aren’t paying attention to what you are watching then its your own fault.
Overall it’s not an easy watch but it wasn’t meant to be, Of Guilt & Grief has set the bar extremely high for other short film makers to follow, thought-provoking and utterly beautiful, do not miss!”



strangers in a cinema

Editor John  Jan 18th 2013
“A period piece as a short? That seems more ambitious than trying to make a short war film where there are always people willing to be extras with their own kit about! However, this ambition is pulled off very well in Tom van Den Broek’s Of Guilt & Grief.
The story follows Simeon (Stuart Adams) looking back on the sins of his past, but does it in a way that is not initially clear – playing around with the flow of the narrative in an inventive way, which leads to a satisfying pay off and twist at the end of the film. The setting of the film works well with the story – the costumes and settings used don’t detract from the action, helping to confuse you and in some way explain the motivations of the characters.
The production value is obviously high with the film being beautifully shot, with excellent depth of colour and makeup working very well to age Simeon between the different points in his life. And where many independent films fall down, this excels – the acting is brilliant, especially Adams – playing this man who has been betrayed wanting to exact revenge on his lover.
Initially I thought I wasn’t going to like it – I’m not a fan of things set in rural England in the past, but the mystery surrounding the plot and the pay off at the end was more than worth it. It’s a good looking film that’s well worth 15 minutes of your time to watch something so well made without compromise. Van Den Broek has done a brilliant piece of work here. Bravo!”




Editor Bill Conrad
“Of Guilt & Grief. Interesting name but is it worth watching? In one word. Hell Yes! Oops. That’s two words… but well worth the false advertising. This short film really is something you don’t want to miss. So when you get a chance, and when it becomes public you need to tune in and have a look.
Keeping with tradition, and not giving anything away, I’m going to keep the films description brief. Let’s just say that it is a period drama revolving around the confession of a dead man as he tells his story via a note he has left on his person. This is done through a series of flashbacks edited in a non linear order, which forces the viewer to think a little. But not so much that you can’t figure it out, or even think all that hard. It just comes together nicely.
Myself? Honestly? I’m a lover of horror, science fiction and action. In a nutshell? I’m a very old teenager. So… I’m not sure what inspired me to watch this myself. But I did, clearly. And I’m very glad I did. Aside from what I’ve written, Of Guilt & Grief is a beautiful film to watch. Because it was filmed using true life Historical locations, the backrounds are striking. Add to that the excellent job editing and the amazing scoring/sound design and mixing, and you’ve got a film on par with most I’ve seen. And yes. That includes HollyWood productions. Sure. No explosions or laser beams (Which would have been cool) but everything needed to tell the story. And done very well.
If I was to score this film on that alone, it would have scored a Five. I also need to mention that the acting feels completely right. Nothing cheesy, over done or bland. The characters come across as real people. Which is always a plus on the Independent front. Virtual high five to the cast! Excellent! I also want to touch a little on the post production coloring. To my amazement it was done in house, using the same products that most Indie film makers have already. Why is that important? Because it’s really that darn good. Worth mentioning. Budding and established Indie film/series makers take note. You CAN color like a pro! Of Guilt & Grief proves it! Which is an inspiration to us all.
So. If you’ve read this far you probably know what I think of this short film. Do I have any gripes? Only one. Because the story is told in a non linear way it can, at times become slightly confusing. Not so much that everything doesn’t snap together after a minute or so, but enough to be slightly jarring at times. I really want to score it a perfect Five, but I wouldn’t feel right doing so. I keep thinking that if it is (Slightly Jarring) to me, then a normal viewer, who doesn’t watch as many movies as me may find it a little hard to follow. However, even if you are totally lost, you’ll probably watch a bit for the sheer beauty, and stick around for the well crafted way it’s all put together.
I humbly give Of Guilt & Grief a solid 4.5 out of 5 and recommend this to anyone when it becomes available to view.”



rogue cinema

Writer Philip Smolen 1st Feb 2013
“Of Guilt and Grief” is a hypnotic and ethereal short film from vdb productions in the UK. It tells the story of a lonely and frail old man named Simeon (Stuart Adams) who confronts the horrendous crime of his youth. Back then, he was in love with the tempestuous artist Celestina (Eloise Black), who rejects him when she becomes pregnant by another man. Unable to live without her, Simeon kills Celestina. Now aged and bitter, Simeon is unable to live with the evil he committed decades ago. He decides to end his life and join Celestina and her daughter in Jannah, which is the Islamic equivalent of an afterlife.
Part of the appeal of “Of Guilt and Grief” is watching the way the drama unfolds. Director and screenwriter Tom van den Broek’s uses a non linear style for his narrative. He freely shifts scenes from the past, present and future as Simeon recalls his passion for Celestina, his rage over her rejection and his feelings of remorse that have festered over the decades. But the non-linear style also allows van den Broek to establish a dream-like and haunting atmosphere. The mood is both captivating and riveting and is a remarkable achievement for a short film.
The film’s production values are sumptuous as well. It is a rare that a short can boast art direction, costumes and sets that can compete with Hollywood standards, but designer Maria Dagher has done an amazing job here. There is also wonderful makeup from Sam Duce and Ria Biggerstaff.
Stuart Adams gives a powerful performance as Simeon. He channels the man’s rage and guilt with the precision and intensity of a laser beam. His haunted looks will stay with you for a long time. Eloise Black is also wonderful as Celestina. She’s smoldering and turbulent and captures the artist’s emotional palette perfectly.
“Of Guilt and Grief” is a superb short film. It is stunning and it weaves a captivating emotional web that lingers long after it ends. If you enjoy great cinema (regardless of the length), make it a point to search for it.
“Of Guilt and Grief” will be screened at the Queens World Film Festival in March 2013.”



film threat

Writer Amy R. Handler Feb 18th 2013


“Writer/Director Tom van den Broek sets himself up with the seemingly impossible task of creating a timeless classic in the frame of 14-minutes. The result is his magnus opus, Of Guilt and Grief, the likes of which would make feature filmmakers Peter Kosminsky (Wuthering Heights-1992) and William Dieterle (Portrait of Jenny-1948) beam with pride.


Though van den Broek’s non-linear fantasy appears to be set in Victorian England, it clearly transcends time and place in a very credible way; his story is really very simple and universal. It is about an old man named Simeon (Stuart Adams) who is presumably married to a young artist named Celestina (Eloise Black). His love dissipates to jealousy, and then obsession, when Celestina runs off with a young poet and becomes pregnant. Celestina lies to, and then taunts the broken old man, basically provoking him to kill her. It is what happens after the crime of passion that sets Tom van den Broek apart from any other filmmaker encountered in a long time. In fact, if I could give this film a 10-star-rating, it would not be enough.
Of Guilt and Grief is a gorgeous yet intelligent film that explores those age old questions that baffled philosophers and poets from time immemorial. Inquiries such as: Can the past, present, and future co-exist on one plane? And perhaps even more provocatively: Can the living communicate with the dead, in a manner not considered insane? These days, it is the stuff of Vampire Diaries— but obviously not novel, by any means.
To create such limitless lines of magic in a tiny experimental-narrative structure is beyond belief. But van den Broek not only manages this task, he compels us into this world in a manner that is not questioned for a millisecond. Visually magnificent, impeccably acted, and with a hypnotic score by principal composer Kevin Macleod, Of Guilt and Grief is a force we can not ignore. I literally cannot wait to see what Tom van den Broek creates next!”




              Writer James Thomson  March 2013
“I had almost given up hope with the series of shorts I had to watch until Of Guilt & Grief came along. This is a thoroughly excellent piece of filmmaking, which gets everything right where the previous ones had gotten it so wrong. The story of an elderly man reflecting on some of the choices that he has made, though to say more would be to spoil it.
The performances from the lead actors are interesting and poignant, especially from Stuart Adams, whose eyes betray his feelings of remorse that he would maybe not admit to himself. The editing, which I always have an issue with in short films was perfect. It establishes the characters and allows the scenes to breathe which a lot of people don’t do. A special mention must go to the makeup which was phenomenal throughout.
I really hope this film finds a distributor as it deserves a wider audience, and I fully recommend it. All involved should hopefully go on to bigger things.”



london film review

Writer Priyanka Mogul  The London Film Review 8th Oct 2013
“(Rating 4/5) Deeply personal expressions of guilt, loss and grief aren’t easy to express through film. The task becomes all the more challenging when the film is only 15 minutes in length. How does one touch on such complex issues in such a short period? Tom van den Broek shows us exactly how it is done.
Of Guilt and Grief (soon to be renamed “The Garden) website here – breaks in to a world that is familiar to all yet also so personal to each individual. As we are introduced to Simeon, we are taken on the personal journey of one man’s transition into the afterlife; opening doors that make us question our actions and how they impact our loved ones and even ourselves.
As the film jumps between the past, present and future (the “afterlife” in this case), we are able to piece together the puzzle of Simeon’s life and what led him to where he ends up; dead and alone in his bed. While some may be put off by the heavy theme, Of Guilt & Grief is surprisingly captivating, with an extremely engaging story impossible to turn away from.
As Simeon’s secrets are revealed, we watch him squirm for redemption and can only hope that our own dark secrets won’t catch up with us in the same way. Having murdered the woman he once loved, jealousy and guilt set the scene for the film, and viewers are introduced to the concept of “Jannah”- Islam’s version of paradise where Simeon finds himself having to make peace with those he hurt.
The dark emotions of jealousy and rage are portrayed beautifully through incredible acting, creative cinematography, and what I can only call masterful directing. The actors make you feel every emotion they are trying to convey as the film progresses, each one mastering the complexity of their individual character and immersing themselves in the role completely. Although there are only three characters, each one adds a new dimension to the film and the concept of facing up to your actions, good and bad, in Jannah.
The alternation between past, present and future has a chilling effect: one that seems to convey that the afterlife isn’t as far away as it may feel, and that it definitely isn’t an entirely different wonderland, separate from your current existence. Of Guilt and Grief brilliantly captures the link between our lives, the choices we make, and what lies beyond death, giving rise to a highly creative and thought-provoking short film.