It’s James’ 29th birthday and his three closest friends have come to take him on a journey to his favorite place on earth: a secluded cove on Barafundle Bay, on the western coast of Wales. As they start out, their banter is filled with private jokes and obscure references, and much of it is muffled. The hand-held camera moves in jerks and sweeps. But it doesn’t matter. The busyness is meant to reveal their camaraderie, their affection for one another. 

And so begins “Third Star,” a new British film that will take you on a grueling adventure that will leave you exhausted, shaken, and strangely enthralled. It plays in Santa Monica at the Laemmle.

For James, a thin, glowing young man (Benedict Cumberbatch) has cancer. It’s painful and it’s terminal, and it has weakened him to the extent that he can only walk for short periods with the help of a cane. It would seem a foolhardy undertaking to embark on a trip that will demand hiking up steep lumpy hills, rappelling down rock-faced cliffs, and pushing an increasingly sick man in a contraption that is part wheelchair and part tricycle. But James is adamant, and they have all agreed to go. It’s a labor of love. 

The three friends, Miles (JJ Field), Davy (Tom Burke), and Bill (Adam Robertson) all have emotional baggage of their own, and as the trip becomes more and more arduous they turn on each other in frustration and anxiety. 

But as James grows weaker and shares his fear and despair, his friends rally to support him — physically as well as emotionally. They carry him on their backs and in their arms, and they attempt to make the trip into a camping adventure. 

There are moments of boisterous good cheer, and you celebrate them with the four friends, relieved, after the long stretches in which you climbed every step of the way with them. And there is a catharsis of a sort when they reach their destination. 

Director Hattie Dalton, who won a BAFTA (British Academy Award) in 2005 for her first film, a short called ”The Banker,” has made this “Third Star" road trip into an absorbing, moving, and captivating experience. Beautifully realized and expertly directed, the film won the prestigious closing spot at the 2010 Edinburgh Film Festival. 

“Third Star" will make its American debut Saturday and Sunday, July 9-10 at 11 a.m. at Laemmle theaters in Santa Monica, Encino, Pasadena, and Claremont as part of a series of new independent films called From Britain With Love.

Cynthia Citron can be reached at ccitron@socal.rr.com.

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