Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"A towering performance from veteran actor Richard Johnson dominates the film."

One day Leonard found himself unable to leave the sofa.

It happens to a lot of us, sooner or later; muscles waste away over time, joints stiffen with arthritis. But with Leonard, it is perhaps something else. Despite some real mobility difficulties, he can still climb the stairs with help. What's missing is the will, the patience necessary to overcome the challenges involved. Leonard has always been an angry man and now he's really losing his temper. So he sits, for days, in a growing pile of his own faeces, and his frantic wife Maria makes a desperate phone call to their son, Daniel. Won't he come and help?

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At first it's difficult to tell where this film is going. The viewer, as a newcomer to this situation, is placed in Daniel's shoes, and Daniel has little patience or understanding. He tries to do things by the book: everything from arranging for a nurse to visit and sorting out a bed in the living room to talking in a calm, polite voice and firmly instructing his father on what he thinks is best. Naturally this is infuriating for the old man, who wants to live life on his own terms and who experiences a frustration Daniel simply cannot grasp over little things like wanting to use his usual set of cutlery, because it shouldn't be so hard, every time, to control the simplest things in life. But this is more than just another tale of woe focused on illness and mortality. As time goes on and Daniel witnesses the way his father treats his mother, it becomes apparent that this was a household full of problems long before infirmity became an issue.

The title of the film comes from Leonard's favourite joke, which both Maria and Daniel find amusing despite (or perhaps because of) him having told it to them many times before. On the surface it's playful and flippant, but it's premised on two kinds of abuse; to appreciate this, we need to see it in its social context, just as we need to understand the behaviour of the central trio in the context of what must have gone before. On one level this is a house with a good share of love and laughter, but then, without those things, it might not have been possible for things to become as abusive as they are. The complex ways in which each of the three family members experiences and understands these things is the meat of a film which, superficially, delivers kitchen sink drama.

A towering performance from veteran actor Richard Johnson dominates the film; this is, after all, Leonard's tragedy, and Leonard would not have it any other way. He is ably matched, nonetheless, by Gemma Jones, who gives Maria a force and wholeness often overlooked in bullies spouses. This makes it easier to believe that, like the heroine of Jan Troell's superlative Everlasting Moments, she has made her own decisions, no matter how much she has sacrificed in the process. As their son, Daniel Cerqueira doesn't have as much to work with, but as the story develops he succeeds in making his character much more sympathetic without going beyond the bounds of what is realistic.

Altogether, the package of subjects dealt with in the film is an unusual one, and impressively managed. It is not by nature very cinematic, but occasional trips outside the house take in the startling beauty of the Cumbrian countryside and remind us of the size of the world, of the freedom that Daniel still feels entitled to and that Leonard longs to recover but knows he is losing forever. It's a bleak tale enlivened by dark comedy, but it is also a story about human resilience, a curious celebration of rage against the dying of the light.

Reviewed on: 16 Feb 2015
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Blackly comic drama about the strain of coping with ageing parents in a long troubled family.
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Director: Tom Browne

Writer: Tom Browne, Daniel Cerqueira

Starring: Richard Johnson, Gemma Jones, Daniel Cerqueira

Year: 2013

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: UK

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