Ordinary Love (4 stars)

Ordinary Love

Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson are pitch perfect in this understated heartbreaker

You are in safe hands when a cast is headed by Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson. The screen veterans give beautifully nuanced, pitch perfect performances in Ordinary Love, a determinedly unsentimental, often gruelling, portrait of a loving couple facing the ordeal of cancer. A first screenplay by award-winning Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty (Mojo Mickybo, Scenes from the Big Picture etc), it is inspired by his own wife's cancer diagnosis and the way he strives for authenticity sets the tone of an unshowy drama.

Joan (Manville) and Tom (Neeson) have reached that comfy-cosy stage of a long relationship. They are a self-contained unit with no apparent friends and a beloved daughter who died far too young. Their life is one of companionable silences, trips to the supermarket, lazy nights slumped before the telly, fond looks, affectionate bickering and half-hearted efforts to stay fit and healthy. It is clear that they are still very much in love. Everything changes the day Joan discovers a lump in her breast. Tom responds with blind optimism and reassuring banter. Joan knows in her bones that it is cancer.

The inevitable journey from biopsy to diagnosis, chemotherapy to surgery is covered in unsparing detail. What prevents it from being unendurable is the quality of the acting: Neeson reminds us of his career beyond action-man movies, investing the lost Tom with a gruff tenderness and compassion; Manville is characteristically compelling as a woman fearing the worst and struggling to retain a grip on some kind of normality, it is a performance that reveals the many flutters of fear beneath a surface display of sturdy resilience. Together they create a believable, fragile couple confronted with a harsh reminder of mortality's certain arrival. The result is a modest, understated heartbreaker of a film.

General release from Fri 6 Dec.

Ordinary Love

  • 4 stars
  • 2019
  • UK
  • 1h 32min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn
  • Cast: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, David Wilmot
  • UK release: 6 December 2019

Joan (Manville) and Tom (Neeson) are a long-married couple whose contentment is shattered with Joan discovers a lump in her breast. The facts of cancer are covered in unsparing detail, but the acting makes it watchable, with Neeson investing Tom with gruff tenderness and Manville compelling as a woman who fears the worst.