The Lawless Heart (15)
THREE men – a bored husband, a drifter and a gay restaurateur – are forced to come to terms with a friend’s death when he is drowned at sea.
Hardly the most astonishing building blocks for a movie, but this episodic British drama is much more than just the sum of its parts. Starring Bill Nighy, Tom Hollander and Douglas Henshall in the three principal roles, The Lawless Heart unravels the nerves and emotions of three very different people in the aftermath of their friend’s demise.
Dan (Nighy, delightfully vague) is in the throes of a desperate attempt to persuade himself that his marriage – kids, wife, nice house and a business that is flatlining – hasn’t gone irrevocably stale.
Nick (Hollander, underplaying nicely) is the gay partner of the dead man, an interloper from London who finds himself isolated and lonely despite the best efforts of his adopted family.
Tim (Henshall, one of the UK’s very best young actors, yet perennially underrated) is the itinerant prodigal son who returns home from an eight-year globe-trotting adventure to find lives, people and milieu changed, but somehow strangely the same.
As they attempt to negotiate their way around their friend’s unexpected and tragic end they each travel down new roads of experience. Dan finds himself desperately attempting to stave off the affections of a French florist. Nick discovers solace via an unexpected source. Tim looks for security and a future with a local girl.
The twist in The Lawless Heart is that each angle of the story is told from three separate perspectives as co-writers and directors Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter use flashbacks and multi-layered storytelling techniques a la Pulp Fiction and Amores Perros to relate their tale.
And it works exceedingly well. This is a considered and often tightly drawn examination of ordinary folk and their lives, told with sensitivity, emotion and care for the people involved.
Nighy, Hollander and, particularly, Henshall are perfectly cast, with the latter perhaps making the most of the dramatic triumvirate as the thirtysomething traveller who finds himself alienated from almost every aspect of the small town he once called home.
There are fine roles, too, for Ellie Harrington (as Nighy’s wife) and Sukie Smith (as Hollander’s unexpected angel), while the wet, grey backdrop of the Essex coastline provides the final character in this gathering of sad, washed-up people.
This is exactly the sort of confident, exquisitely-written drama Britain should be producing, and falls into the category already occupied by the likes of This Year’s Love and Born Romantic. The ensemble cast bounces effortlessly off one another; the script is marvellous in its ordinariness and the film meanders along at a steady pace that allows all the various strands to be wrapped up nicely as the final credits roll.
That’s rare in a home-grown film, and The Lawless Heart is all the better for being one of the few to get it right.