Sam (Shaun Evans) is bright, good looking, a charmer, and desirous of a more exciting life than the cosily provincial existence he shares with mum Jill (Lesley Manville) – whose turns belting out retro pop in tacky bars hardly compensate for the fact that she won’t tell him who his dad was. So when he heads for London – even though she joins him, moving them into digs owned by the ever-so-slightly-strange Vince (Bob Hoskins) – he sets about striking out on his own. Casual waitering leads to an unexpected – but, as it transpires, professionally advantageous – relationship with the older, richer Sheila (Stockard Channing), whose exact role in his new life he conceals not only from mum but from Kate (Amanda Ryan) – met, ironically, at one of Sheila’s parties. But lies beget lies… and inevitable complications.
Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger proved themselves adept at multi-character comedy-drama with ‘Boyfriends’ and ‘Lawless Heart’, and while this may lack the formal sophistication of the latter’s temporal structure, it succeeds in deriving both humour and moments of emotional force and complexity from its tale of an all-too-often unwitting rake’s progress. There are flaws: the rake himself soon becomes hard to care about; the use of the Isle of Man to stand in for London or Essex locations is sometimes clumsily obvious; and the feelgood aspects of the final scenes feel false and far too tidy. But there are strong performances – Manville, Hoskins and Channing all deliver – and the movie is most effective when the deceits perpetrated not just by Sam but by several others begin to take their wretched toll, and a real sense of pain intrudes.