Some films look great on paper. The writer of ‘Shadowlands’ pens a script about the end of a marriage, casting a Bafta-winning actress, an actor whose star is on the rise and Bill Nighy. All the signs suggest this should be a subtle emotional ride of a movie. Spoiler: it isn’t.
We meet the tempestuous Grace (Annette Bening) and her quiet husband Edward (Nighy) in their little house by the East Sussex coast. She rages and he listens. When their son Jamie (Josh O’Connor) arrives, it’s clear this pattern has been in place for some time.
Still, when Edward announces he is leaving, Grace is completely unprepared. You want to feel for her, as she scrambles to save her marriage, but emotional investment is hard to come by here. When Edward walks out the door, so does the drama.
What follows are scenes which line up next to each other without ever really flowing. Nicholson tries device after device to engage with us. But his voiceovers distract rather than add to the narrative and the shot repetition grates. We can see the similarities between father and son, without having them make their tea or stand in front of the family home in the same manner. And then there is Bening’s odd, faintly English accent – a jarring deep timbre – which just serves as another distraction.
Despite all this, there is something poetic about writer William Nicholson’s second feature as a director. Its south coast backdrop is stunning and Alex Heffes’s soaring score does elevate matters. But we expect films about break-ups to fizz with resentment and recrimination. And while these emotions do exist here, it’s like someone left the top off the pop overnight and the whole thing has just gone a bit flat.
In UK cinemas now