The first film that I critiqued as a student in college was Nell. It was also the first movie I saw Liam Neeson in and ever since I’ve found him a captivating and incredible actor. Lesley Manville is also an amazing actress. After watching the trailer, about a couple dealing with cancer and I was hooked. I knew the subject matter would be difficult but I also hoped for powerful performances. I got all that and more. Beyond the performances, the writing itself was beautiful, authentic, with the perfect blend of humor and drama. With the brilliant portrayals by Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville, this film is a must-see, even with the difficult subject matter. It perfectly illustrates the title, Ordinary Love.
Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, from a screenplay by Owen McCafferty, Ordinary Love stars Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville as a retired couple, Tom and Joan Thompson, that have been married for years. Joan unexpectedly finds a lump in her breast one day and is diagnosed with breast cancer, causing the pair to face the challenges of dealing with Joan’s treatment as well as Tom dealing with the potential of losing her. Along the way, the pair confront truths in the marriage as the stress of the situation heightens emotions and causes tension on both of them.
One of the factors that wring emotion from every scene, even the simplest, is how authentic and deep the rapport is between Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville. While Lesley carries the weight of the film as the woman struggling with breast cancer, it is the relationship between the two of them that is the heart of the movie and the depth between them is what makes every scene resonate as they interact. Part of that depth is the writing and the directing. Scenes where Tom lifts Joan up on their daily walks along the beach illustrate the connection between them. Moments where they shop in the grocery store and argue about what belongs in the cart are scenes that every married couple has had and the humor in these scenes is partly because most couples have had similar conversations. The dialogue between Tom and Joan contains love but also moments of disagreement, similar to one’s couple all over the world experience and while some of it is repetitive or nonsense, it is these scenes that build the relationship and the depth between them. But it must be argued that the dynamic between Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville, also builds that rapport, their easiness with each other, the moments of tenderness, and the love that both actors portray toward the other, even when they are arguing.
Another element that adds to the emotion and impact of the film is the authenticity of Joan’s journey, from finding the lump to her first visit to the doctor, to her surgery, medications, her entire course of treatment. While the movie doesn’t illustrate every single moment, it does build a sense of her struggle, the pressure, stress, pain and the difficulty of dealing with cancer day in and day out. Having had procedures in a hospital, most of the scenes are realistic and they help the audience not only empathize with Joan but also build the emotional weight of how all of the struggles impact the relationship between Tom and Joan, bringing pressure down on them both. Joan struggles with pain and fear, while Tom fears for Joan but tries to stay strong, to support her through her ordeal, even when she knows the truth of his fear and worry about losing her. The struggle of both of them to deal with the cancer amidst their relationship is the true heart of the story and whether the struggle will break or isolate them both rather than bring them together.
It is the exquisite portrayals by both actors that bring the story to life. Lesley Manville is emotional, powerful, and nuanced in her portrayal of Joan. Pain is etched across her face and her fear is real and palpable in her scenes with doctors and other patients. But her strength is apparent as well as she faces her ordeal and finds a way to keep on fighting. Liam Neeson is equally nuanced as Tom, fighting to stay strong and support his wife. Separate moments apart from each other are what illustrate the truth of their feelings and in these moments, Liam Neeson is able to convey such sadness and fear that it is palpable. And the everyday moments between the pair illustrate depth and emotion, humor and love. The everyday scenes illustrate the title of the film, Ordinary Love. It is ordinary but extraordinary at the same time, a love willing to fight through the worst of times and keep together. And both Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson are amazing in every scene with each other. The other actors, the teacher that Joan connects with, Peter (David Wilmot), and Amit Shah as Steve, his partner, do an equally incredible job portraying their relationship and devotion as Peter faces terminal cancer.
There are zero flaws in this film. The depth of emotion might be difficult to watch, the hardship and pain might be hard if you’ve dealt with cancer in your loved ones, so that might be the only cautionary note. But if you love these actors, if you love powerful performances, exquisite tender love of an old married couple, this film is absolutely one that should get attention. The relationship is full of depth, love, and caring. Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville are incredible, wringing emotion out of every scene and the writing just captures the picture of marriage between people who have been together forever. And the rest of us could only hope to have a marriage or relationship like the one in this film.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Married Couple Arguments.