Sometimes Always Never, from first time director Carl Hunter and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce, is a curious, low key, offbeat gem of a film. It isn’t going to change the course of cinema, but it is beautifully shot, quietly compelling, and features a superb central performance from the great Bill Nighy.
Nighy plays Alan, a men’s tailor utterly obsessed with board game Scrabble. The reasons for this gradually become clear, as in the opening of the film he arranges to meet up with his estranged son Peter (Sam Riley). This is because a body has been discovered on a beach that may or may not belong to Alan’s other son, who stormed out of the house years previously over a disagreement during a game of Scrabble, and never returned.
Nighy’s excellent performance is complimented by a great supporting cast that includes Alice Lowe, Tim McInnery, and the always wonderful Jenny Agutter. In addition, the film uses Scrabble as a surprisingly powerful dramatic metaphor. For example, in the irony of a man who is so excellent with words being so poor in communication with the son who desperately wants to have a meaningful relationship with him. The Biblical parable of The Prodigal Son is also referenced a few times, in that it explores the pain of the “older brother” who didn’t run away. In the case of Peter, he was always second-best, amid his father’s obsessive, grief-fuelled search for the son who left.
Despite the subject matter, the tone is tragi-comic, with several funny scenes, and poignant, redemptive character arcs. At times make the story even feels a little bit like a thriller. The quirky tone won’t be for everyone, but I really, really liked this film. Incidentally the title, Sometimes Always Never, refers to the buttons on a suit jacket, in that the top button you always fasten, the middle button sometimes, and the bottom one never.