Sunny, tourist-thronged Nîmes is a home from home for expat couple James Fox and Brenda Fricker, where English newspapers and Radio 4 sit alongside the culinary delights of their local bistro. It’s the sort of retirement many would dream of, yet beneath the superficial calm, mortality’s shadow is looming larger, and a chance encounter with passing thirtysomething holidaymakers – Natalie Dormer and Paul Nicholls, just settling down themselves – soon upsets the precarious balance in this seasoned relationship.
The twin poles of loyalty and selfishness mark out the territory in writer-director Virginia Gilbert’s modestly scaled first feature, which is so secure in its novelistic richness of understanding and characterisation that it largely avoids unnecessary melodrama or formal display. That’s an unfashionable approach, but it works well, thanks to the sheerly nuanced craft of Fox and Fricker, and indeed to Gilbert’s trust in the audience’s ability to read the shifting emotional currents just below the surface. What seems at first an almost mundane affair, eventually becomes a devastating, unsentimental portrait of the quiet desperation insidiously contaminating even this Provençal paradise.