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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr William Nicholson
prd Sarada McDermott, David M Thompson
with Annette Bening, Bill Nighy, Josh O'Connor, Ryan McKen, Aiysha Hart, Sally Rogers, Joe Citro, Nicholas Burns, Finn Bennett, Steven Pacey, Rose Keegan, Nicholas Blane
release US 6.Mar.20,
TORONTO FILM FEST
There's an unusual calmness to this drama that feels bracingly original, simply because writer-director William Nicholson never indulges in cheap jokes or contrived histrionics. And yet the story is provocative, grappling with the issue of separation between family members on a variety of layers. Not only does this offer delicate, complex characters for the actors to dive into, but it gives the audience frequent points of identification.
On the southern English coast, Grace and Edward (Bening and Nighy) have been married for 29 sometimes tetchy years. One weekend when their son Jamie (O'Connor) visits from London, Edward hesitantly announces that he has long felt he and Grace were mismatched, and now he has fallen for another woman (Rogers). Grace simply refuses to accept this, while Jamie struggles to avoid being manipulated into taking sides as his parents separate. And all three will need to wrestle with their own self-images as they work out new realities about their relationships with each other.
It's to Nicholson's credit that he never rushes and also refuses to take an easy route through this material, maintaining authenticity in each action and reaction. There are no good or bad guys here, because each character's perspective is so clearly written and played. Even Grace's religious faith has a depth to it that's never simplistic, as does her work compiling a poetry anthology and Edward's historical expertise, both of which give the film an underlying literary tone. Indeed, it's thoughtful and introspective, centring more on understated facial expressions than pointed dialog.
All three actors are terrific, with Bening giving another gorgeous turn as an intelligent woman who doesn't understand why she isn't easy to live with. Her brittle interactions are packed with telling subtext. Nighy beings his usual impeccably uncertain timing, played for both comedic and dramatic effect. And O'Connor gets some particularly meaty scenes with both Bening and Nighy. He's terrific as the sympathetic young man who puts his own issues on the back burner to help his parents through this transition.
The film is so resolutely unflashy that some audiences might grow impatient with it. The limited cast and settings make it feel rather like a stage play, especially with so many people spoken of but rarely (or never) seen. But this means that each scene maintains a quiet grip, offering moving insights into situations that are easy to connect with. And in the end, there's a solid undercurrent of hope in this rather heavy, emotionally astute little film.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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