Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Very well observed and boasts some fine performances."

Tom (Tom Payne) is a carer for his dad, Woods (Tommy Flanagan). It's a situation that normally attracts sympathy, but what Tom has to deal with is both tougher and less sympathetic than what most carers face. Woods is an alcoholic, frequently aggressive and always in a mess. Tom is all the more desperate to get him cleaned up because his little brother Max (Son Of Rambow star Bill Milner) is in state care in the meantime, and very unhappy there. But Max's plight is just another factor leading Woods to despair, and that always leads back to the bottle.

Tom has academic opportunities, a girl he wants to pursue, a world of possibilities slowly slipping away. Should he get out, think first of himself? He doesn't want to. He knows the demons that have driven his father to this and he remembers the man he used to know, loving and witty and talented. He daren't let go of the possibility of seeing that man return.

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Winter is a poignant tale of familial love too brutal to be mawkish, too energetic for its familiar themes to bore. It's Heidi Greensmith's debut feature and it does have its weaknesses - there's some clunky dialogue and a few scenes are predictable to the point where they could easily have been skipped - but it's very well observed and boasts some fine performances. Flanagan, after a career built on being the Glaswegian heavy in the background, there to add a bit of character or menace, comes into his own in the lead. His physical performance is superb, shifting between threatening big man and teetering, fragile wreck, whilst he effectively embodies the unpredictability of the addict without losing the vital consistency underneath. His character is reeling from a past trauma and is also struggling with the mental illness that makes the drink so appealing, and this is expertly played in a way that enables us to relate to Tom's feelings for him even whilst we wish Tom could escape.

Opposite this, Payne is also impressive, holding his own in a role that could easily have lapsed into cliché. He presents us with a complex character who is more than just the job he is doing or the sum of his frustrated ambitions. He also hs good chemistry with Milner, which helps us to believe in the bond between the boys that has enabled them to come through this without going to pieces themselves. Together they bring elements of warmth and liveliness to the film that keep it from overwhelming the audience with tragedy. then, too, there's the dark comedy inherent in some of Woods' behaviour, with his charisma the key to the film's combination of allure and threat.

It's a rare film that takes on mental health issues and the challenges faced by carers in a way that's genuinely absorbing at a character level. Winter is highly watchable. It's a small independent film made on a modest budget, but it deserves a big audience.

Reviewed on: 04 Feb 2016
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A bereaved man who has turned to drink is an increasing burden on his son.

Director: Heidi Greensmith

Writer: Heidi Greensmith

Starring: Tommy Flanagan, Tom Payne, Bill Milner

Year: 2015

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2016

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