Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Andrew Haigh's debut Greek Pete was a curious animal, half documentary fish, half narrative fowl, an uneasy mix that despite having a ring of truth, thanks to the inclusion of real male escorts, never quite found the depth of insight he was striving for. Here, by embracing fiction and casting a couple of superb newcomers in the lead roles, he achieves a level of emotional authenticity in that it leaves the lasting impression of a first stolen kiss in the dark.

Russell (Tom Cullen) leads the sort of utterly normal life that doesn't usually make it into films. He's a lifeguard at the local pool, lives in a basic but refreshingly not-particularly-bleak high-rise and has a wide circle of friends. Still, he has the melancholy, slightly solitary air of a man who feels something is missing but doesn't quite know what that something is. He is also - and this is paradoxically unimportant yet vital to the film - gay.

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After a night out with pals, he decides on a whim to head to a gay club which, in another admirable choice by Haigh, is a long way from the usual hedonistic and, frankly, unbelievable dens that homosexual characters are so frequently thrust into in cinema. There, he crosses paths with Glen (Chris New, who is reminiscent of a slightly softer Ryan Gosling) and it's not long before the pair of them have spent the night together. The next morning, passions allayed temporarily, they begin the tentative steps of actually getting to know one another, a process made slightly more intimidating for Russ when it transpires that Glen - an aspiring artist - has a habit of taping the recollections his one-night stands have about the night before.

What follows is the development of their relationship as it shifts from the blood-rush of attraction to something much more meaningful over the space of one weekend as we come to hope they will found a lasting connection. It is ground that has been trodden by many films before - from Brief Encounter to Before Sunrise - but the gay protagonists and realistic, and in many ways unromantic grey, urban setting lend it a bracing freshness.

Cullen and New - whose names are likely to be much more well known 12 months from now - have a slow-burn chemistry that feels utterly real and Haigh wisely chooses to take us on a gradual, naturalistic journey so that when his well-shot and genuinely sexy sex scenes arrive they come at a point where we are willing them to happen and feel like a sensible culmination of what has gone before.

Which is where we come to that paradox I mentioned. While the sweetness of romance, hotness of desire and pain of soul-searching will be familiar to anyone who has ever embarked on a relationship, however brief, the subject matter covered by the pair in drug-fuelled, drunken heart-to-hearts goes into thoughtful territory regarding attitudes to gay couples and issues surrounding gay sex. The film is 'talky' but it rarely feels forced, with these conversations born out of situations that tend to lead to waxing lyrical - such as taking a shed-load of drugs. And although there are serious issues here, offering plenty of food for thought, Haigh doesn't lecture and his characters and their relationship never play second fiddle to politics.

He paints a picture of a world where even if a level playing field exists, it is pocked with the potholes of latent, casual prejudice and subconscious ghettoisation. But that world is just a small facet of Haigh's bigger canvas concerning tenderness, love, connection and friendship that deserves to find a place in the hearts of wistful romantics everywhere, no matter what their sexual preference.

Reviewed on: 19 Nov 2011
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A one-night stand turns into something altogether more unexpected in Andrew Haigh's heartfelt love story.
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Director: Andrew Haigh

Writer: Andrew Haigh

Starring: Tom Cullen, Chris New

Year: 2011

Runtime: 96 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK

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