Ordinary Love is the new film from playwright Owen McCafferty and directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn. It features central performances from Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville that are anything but ordinary. What is also extraordinary about the film is that it renders the ordinary of a potentially depressing subject with nuance, warmth, compassion, humour, and humanity.
The plot concerns Tom (Neeson) and Joan (Manville) – an immediately relatable retired couple that engage in delightful, snarky but loving banter – who are faced with the possibility of breast cancer. I won’t say much more about the story than that, suffice to say I suspect some people reading this have already been put off watching. Please don’t be. Even if this jabs raw nerves (and it will, for some), this is far from the journey into misery it could have been; although it is sad and painful at times. However, it is also an extraordinary portrayal of ordinary life in difficult circumstances, in all its complexity, with awkward comedic moments existing alongside the tragic, just like in real life.
The afore-mentioned banter between Tom and Joan, as they bravely face their situation, is honest, truthful, and deeply moving without ever resorting to melodrama or histrionics. The little details are what sell the story – frustration over having to pay for parking at hospitals, Tom needing the loo just before a critical diagnosis, the way the directors compose shots with other patients at different stages getting cancer treatments at the edge of the frame, and so on.
In fact, despite being low-key, this is a very cinematic piece of work, and I was frequently struck by the elegant compositions and clever visual metaphors. The film opens with Tom and Joan somewhat reluctantly undertaking their routine “strenuous walk” (for their health) alongside a lake, and has them reach a certain tree, before they allow themselves to turn back. Later renditions of this excursion see them having to navigate through a series of obstructive road works – a metaphor for what their relationship is having to go through amid the hospital treatments and so on. At one point when Joan has an operation, as she is given anaesthetic and loses consciousness, there is a poignant image of her alone on a train that pulls away, with Tom waiting on the railway lines, being left behind… Although Tom has said he will be with her at every stage, helping her to deal with what they have to deal with, inevitably there will be some separation along the way, where he cannot be present all the time.
Again, I must stress that this is not an overly depressing film, despite the subject matter. Yes, events are depicted realistically, and the strength of Tom and Joan’s relationship is tested, but the overall impression one is left with is the power of enduring, genuine, ordinary love. As such, the film is perfectly titled, and comes highly recommended as a humane, properly grown-up, well-acted and directed drama. It’s also a welcome interlude from explosions and special effects.
UK Certificate: 12A
US Certificate: R