Directed by: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn
Starring: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville
In cinemas December 6th
It’s been so long since I saw Liam Neeson in anything but an action film that I almost forgot he was a serious actor. But in this offering, there is no hiding behind explosions or special effects. This is a pure human drama of the kind that you don’t see very often.
Neeson and Manville play a married couple Tom and Joan who lost their daughter several years beforehand. Now settled into a routine of gentle walks and playful bickering they can’t imagine that life will throw them any more heartache. Unfortunately, while showering Joan discovers a lump on her breast and when it proves malignant the pair start the difficult cancer journey which will force them to really examine their relationship.
This is the first feature film from acclaimed playwright Owen McCafferty and his theatrical origins are evident. Despite one or two secondary characters this is very much a two-hander between the leads and almost feels like it was written for the stage at times. It helps that Neeson and Manville have a lovely intimate chemistry which really draws you into their world. As Joan sits having a chemo session they discuss which of the bins is supposed to be put out that night and there is an absolute feeling of normalcy about it all.
It is rare to see two actors of a certain age leading any sort of film. Indeed Neeson has even said of their love scenes it was the first time he’s ever done a scene like that with someone in the same decade as himself – which is a pretty sad indictment on the film industry. This movie proves that it is possible to make an engaging drama about real people without inexplicably casting a 25-year -old in the lead role. Both give beautiful performances and Manville’s, in particular, feels incredibly brave and vulnerable.
Husband and wife directing team Barros D’Sa and Leyburn have treated the subject matter extremely thoughtfully without ever making it schmaltzy or overly sentimental. The fact that they don’t try and tug at your heartstrings actually makes it all the more poignant. As most people have been affected by cancer at some point there may be scenes in this which will be disturbing to some but it is good that they haven’t romanticised the process.
This is a far more complex story than it appears on paper and it is a real and human story – something which is pretty sparse in cinema at the moment. It is poignant, funny and moving. A gorgeous drama that will leave you with a lump in your throat.