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22 02 2018

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Radiator PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sheila Seacroft   
01 12 2015

ImageDirected by Tom Browne

Only a few months after Andrew Haigh's 45 Years, a devastating portrait of the undercurrents of a superficially happy marriage, Tom Browne's stunning and moving debut takes a painful look at a the dog-ends of a more obviously troubled and uncomfortable one. Richard Johnson plays Leonard, an angry bully, raging against the dying of the light in a ramshackle farmhouse in Cumbria.

When he refuses to leave the sofa where he has parked himself, long-suffering wife Maria (Gemma Jones) rings their London-based son (Daniel Cerqueira - also co-screen-writer) for back-up. We see the house through his eyes on arrival, filthy, mouse-ridden and heaped with things. And it's clear that this is not just the result of recent deterioration but of years of letting things go, by both of them. The camera prowls round the dark, stacked rooms like an unseen guest, spotting hints of what a civilised life there might once have been here. It's an uncomfortable watch, especially for those who are both ageing parents and children of the elderly themselves, and the occasions when it leaves the interior for the fresh air and views of Cumbria are like a liberation for the audience too.

Cerqueira cleverly manages to make the son not entirely likeable at first, however much we may empathise, and our sympathy is drawn to Maria. Though bullied and with practically no personal freedom (though she does escape for a weekend with old college friends, when in velvet and pearls we see a glimpse of her as an independent woman), she remains pleasant and accommodating with her husband and acts as if his behaviour is normal, not so much from being browbeaten but out of habit and, maybe, love. When relationships evolve over many years they can go down routes never previously imagined.

Like Joanna Hogg's dry and devastating portrayals of a similar level of society, it catches perfectly the polite, subtle, self-deprecating tones of a middle class speech that conveys more by what it doesn't say than its polite surface indicates, as the tangled trap of family, memory and obligation pains, exasperates and at times even amuses the viewer too.

I first saw this film, now on general release in the UK, at the Transilvanian film festival in Cluj, where Richard Johnson was due to receive a lifetime achievement award, but sadly died the same week. I was surprised to find that in Romania he's held in high esteem, having starred there as a young man in the 1968 historical epic Columna, dear to Romanian hearts because it tells of the heroic union of the indigenous Dacians with their Roman invaders, and still one of the most viewed films ever there. An unlikely connection, we might think, who nowadays are more used to seeing him in the odd episode of Midsummer Murders or Lewis, but it brings home what a distinguished actor this familiar face really was, and this film, at the very end of his long career, is certainly one of the best things he's ever done. Let's hope it gets as wide a screening as 45 Years.

Seen at the Transilvania International Film Festival Cluj, June 2015


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