A Long Way from Home
Written and directed by Virginia Gilbert
Virginia Gilbert’s A Long Way from Home, an adaptation of her own short story, explores issues of complacency and desire in old age. Having met at 23, couple Joseph and Brenda (James Fox and Brenda Fricker) have been married for 50 years, living out their retirement in France’s Nimes region. As former British citizens, the locale choice was meant to make things like a never-ending holiday, but the unchanging routine of their life – including eating at the same restaurant every night and repetitive mornings based around crosswords, letter-posting and the lingering listening choice of BBC Radio 4 from back home – now feels mundane and oppressive to Joseph.
An encounter with young tourist couple Suzanne and Mark (Natalie Dormer and Paul Nicholls) one night breaks the banality for the elder man, leading to a burgeoning rapport between Joseph and the pair. He is drawn to both their shared interests and the vitality they display that reminds him of his own younger days, but becomes especially fascinated with Suzanne on the basis of the mildest of friendly flirtations. The film achieves a consistent level of intrigue as it follows Joseph’s progressively more desperate measures to bump into Suzanne during her holiday, operating as a fairly amusing exploration of a misguided pursuit; humour is also provided through Brenda’s personality and routines, particularly through how each of her trips to her favourite restaurant always begin.
Where the film starts to lose its way is through Suzanne’s increasingly nonchalant responses to Joseph’s looks and even the words he delivers straight to her face when Mark is absent (“You can come over and use our pool any time”). Nonchalant isn’t even the correct description, as her responses are imbued with such consistent affection for Joseph. It’s not suggested she is attracted to him, but nor are the devoted signs ever rationalised as some sort of filial urges. Suzanne ends up feeling like little more than a chirpy cipher. Brenda, at least, is a much better realised character, and the film is at its best when it explores the changing power dynamics and personas in her relationships with others. She is the most nuanced character and Fricker’s is the most engaging performance.
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A Long Way from Home has its world premiere at EIFF and is part of the Michael Powell Award Competition for new British films.