Dom Lee’s Between the Lines is a 15-minute musical comedy that bears the markers of the COVID era, in that it is a brazenly, determinedly joyful film, a pushback against the bleakness of isolation. Set against the backdrop of the threat of a library’s closure, an anxious Jane is tasked with making the crucial pitch that can keep her sanctuary running. That’s when beloved friends come to her aid.
At seven past twelve, the councillor (Tim McGill) informs the library that a meeting will be held at exactly one to decide its fate. Of the two librarians, Alice (Naomi Richards) has to leave urgently for a family emergency just then. Leaving Jane (Alex Stewart), a shy, terribly anxious young woman who can only find refuge from everyday life in her books. To keep the library safe from the heartless councillor, Jane will have to overcome her agonising embarrassment and quickly. Who better to help her out than the literary characters who have thus far shielded her?
As one by one the characters come to fantastical life, the film breaks into lively song—at odds with the terrified Jane. The plot’s progression is a process of bridging the divide between these two just as the lighting changes from flat to multihued. Jane is inexorably pulled in by characters such as Lawrence Livingstone (Adam Kurton), Sherlock Holmes (Simon Alison) and Watson (Lee Rawlings), the Mad Hatter (Roxanne Eastaugh), and the particularly energetic Dictionary (Beth Frigot). The ensemble cast, extensive as it is, is excellent in their musical and dance performances. Lawrence, a good-natured fellow, becomes Jane and the audience’s guide through the newly revealed world of fantasy and wholesome encouragement. Here, fantasy is not accompanied by adventure. The dizzyingly shifting fantasy world and its characters exist in order to help Jane. Until the councillor appears as Dracula, of course. But then again, he is but a minor caricature of a threat—no real challenge for the rapidly strengthening Jane.
The film’s prize horse is, of course, its music, not only for their technical merit but for the context in which they exist. Made in the post-lockdown period, the tracks evoke only delight in a film celebrating endangered non-commercial public spaces like libraries. The choreography emphasizes community. Jane, until then isolated and terrified, finds it in her to join in and even lead. Dracula never had a chance.
Between the Lines never leaves its happy ending in question. Perfectly matched in its mode, the film celebrates the usual joys—imagination, possibilities, friends, people. After their long absence, the taste is much, much sweeter.
Watch Between the Lines Short Film
Between the Lines: A COVID-Era Musical-Comedy that Gets it Just Right