The late Richard Johnson is magnificent in Tom Browne’s life-affirming debut
Radiator is the kind of acutely observed, deeply felt low-budget venture that sustains your faith in independent British filmmaking. Writer-director Tom Browne has taken a deeply personal story and rendered it with a sense of truth and humanity that lends it universal resonance.
Leonard (the late Richard Johnson) and his wife Maria (Gemma Jones) have spent 40 years in a remote Cumbrian cottage that has now become a combination of fortress and prison. It contains the junk of a lifetime and is overrun with mice. Their middle-aged son Daniel (Daniel Cerqueira) arrives from London determined to create some order from the chaos and confront the difficult decisions about their future. Leonard is blithely determined to carry on and not to give an inch.
Leonard could have been a cliché of a grumpy, pernickety old man who makes everyone’s life a misery. He is selfish and arrogant and has the manner of a bully. When Daniel returns home he cannot help but revert to a child once again at the mercy of this seemingly unloving father. But thanks to Browne’s script and a magnificent final performance from Johnson, Leonard is a much more complex figure who is also vulnerable and strangely sympathetic in his defiance. You could even imagine enjoying his company, as long as you didn’t have to suffer him as a father.
The screenplay has an unflinching honesty in the way it captures the peculiar mixture of heartache and hilarity in dealing with the indignities of old age and the care of a loved one. And debut director Browne really brings out the best in his actors with Jones conveying the frustration and the abiding love that marks the relationship between Leonard and Maria. Radiator may sound maudlin, even depressing but it is so true to life and true to itself that it ultimately emerges as life-affirming and very touching.
Limited release from Fri 27 Nov.