Lawless Heart

Movie Review by Lisa Henshall

Starring: Douglas Henshall, Tom Hollander, Bill Nighy, Clementine Celarie, Josephine Butler
Directors: Neil Hunter, Tom Hunsinger

This is the story of Dan (Nighy), Nick (Hollander) and Tim (Henshall – no relation!), their interaction with each other and the 3 women who act as the catalysts for change in each of their lives. It has been described as a modern love story but it is more complex than this and if you are expecting passion and romance you’ve come to the wrong place. It is instead a beautifully understated drama following three different, interlocking stories – there are dry, comic touches at times to lighten the mood, and some truly poignant moments to emphasise the human tragedy of regret, frustration and unfulfilled lives.

Set in the village of Maldon on the Essex coast, England, it follows the men’s lives in the wake of Stuart’s death (who is respectively Nick’s lover, Dan’s brother-in-law, and Tim’s old friend), each story starting at the same point just after the funeral. The directors say the idea behind the story is that, “There is no one truth to a situation, and there are always different emotional repercussions for each person involved. In LAWLESS HEART we set up different focuses on the same event”.

Dan’s story is the most comic as he struggles to cope with the approaches of a seductive French woman called Corinne, who strikes up a conversation with him at the wake. Her probing questions into his attitude to life and love prompt an unusual dialogue and an internal battle over whether to ‘seize the day’ and accept her invitation to dinner (even though his wife is just standing a few yards away). This section of the film is extremely funny with some truly classic lines like, “I once faked a broken heart…but I ran out of energy”. Bill Nighy is absolutely brilliant as the middle-aged man, going through life avoiding too much emotional commitment to anything while maintaining a façade of normality.

Then we return to the funeral to pick up Nick’s story. Devastated by the loss of his long-term partner, he struggles to keep things together. His kindness and gentle nature are tested to the limits when he offers Tim, a temporary place to stay. Tim’s apparent thoughtless and selfish actions cause even more grief as Nick feels his world is falling apart. A young woman left over in the house after Tim’s party befriends Nick and their odd friendship helps him to move on from his grief, while at the same time causing him some confusion over his sexuality.

Lastly we pick up Tim’s story, a sun-tanned back-packer returned from many years of travelling, he has no roots and is struggling to find some meaning to his life. When he meets a young woman in town he realises that what he might have been looking for, may have been back at home all along. Tim’s attempts to woo her give us a deeper empathy with him and flesh out the scenes we’ve seen with Nick. Some of his perceived selfishness in the earlier story takes on a new poignancy when shown from Tim’s perspective.

LAWLESS HEART is not an exciting or incredibly dramatic film, the occasional sex, though shocking when it happens is really more awkward and fumbling than explicit. But mostly this is a quiet and thoughtful film, which doesn’t attempt to examine bereavement in detail, and instead emphasises the multi-layers of people’s lives and perceptions of their own reality. The characters feel real, helped by a long process of improvisation that went into creating the script (much like a Mike Leigh film). The film feels honest and truthful and Hunter and Hunsinger make no attempt to tie up the loose ends, preferring to leave us to our thoughts long after the film is over.

4 out of 6 stars

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