Marathon certainly has a healthy heart, dogged determination and a noble dedication to staying the distance. Sadly, even though it crosses the finish line with undoubted poignancy, Biju Viswanath’s film trips on its laces over a badly plotted course.

It’s a depiction of the real-life relationship between two poets, former US poet Laureate William Meredith and his loving partner Richard Harteis. Much feted, Meredith’s work eventually won pretty much every US award going, despite his suffering a hugely debilitating stroke in 1983 - five years later he scooped the Pulitzer. The film starts just after that stroke, with an unconscious William (Alec Dana) in hospital facing odds-against surgery. Richard (Bristol Pomeroy) is understandably freaking with worry while battling bigoted bureaucracy and prejudice.

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Viswanath balances these initial scenes of clinical sterility with flashbacks to the couple’s happier times, invariably in fecund parks and on woodland river banks. From then on, the film focuses on William’s painfully slow recovery from expressive aphasia and Richard’s valiant struggles to nurse and care for him. Along the way, Richard faces down the intolerance of William’s family, constrained gay legal rights and the loneliness of the carer’s burden. While he trains to run a real marathon, both endure their arduous journeys together.

Dana gives a mostly silent but respectful portrayal of the American poetry establishment stalwart, but it’s Pomeroy who garners most screen time and indulgent scenes. There are some sound moments when he depicts the fraught burn-out of an overwhelmed full-time carer, but for the most part the script is crushingly clunky and saps much of the humanity from the piece. The dialogue is so laden with blunt exposition and little else that time and again it just rings false, a discredit to the real events it seems to be trying to tick off. It’s wholly frustrating to see and hear such a simply moving story reduced to something that, at times, feels soulless. This is never more so apparent than when contrasted with the filtered excerpts of Meredith’s writing.

Marathon is at its best when there’s no dialogue constraining the actors and audience and Viswanath’s experience as a cinematographer shows through. Beautifully framed shots, especially of natural vistas, subtly capture the inquisitive warmth of Meredith’s poetry and the beauty and tragedy of the central relationship. It’s a shame that, even though the film is backed by the Meredith Foundation, produced by Harteis and based on his memoirs, you’re left feeling that everyone merited a better representation than this.

Reviewed on: 11 Jul 2010
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Biopic about former US poet Laureate William Meredith and his partner Richard Harteis.
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Director: Biju Viswanath

Writer: Celia de Freine, Richard Harteis

Starring: Bristol Pomeroy, Alec Dana, Beth Campbell, Donna Del Bueno, Giovanni Capitello, Beverly Robinson

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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