Peter Mullan is sublime in Jake Gavin’s uplifting, socially conscious Christmas film
Jake Gavin’s assured directorial debut might be the best British Christmas film in years. Homeless pensioner Hec (Peter Mullan) lives and travels by the motorways; as Christmas draws closer, he makes the journey from Glasgow to London to stay at the relief shelter he spends the holiday in every year.
Inspired by Gavin’s own time volunteering with Crisis at Christmas – the excellent initiative that supports single homeless people during the festive season – Hector is the antithesis of stereotypical British cinematic miserabilism. That’s mostly due to the warmth and likeability of its central character, and Mullan’s superb work. He’s magnetic as Hec, as he navigates cold nights sleeping rough, hitches his way south and makes tentative approaches towards reuniting with his family. In a career already littered with fantastic roles (see Ken Loach’s My Name Is Joe and his more recent turn in Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur), Hector should go down as one of his best-ever performances.
The supporting cast are excellent too – particularly Natalie Gavin who plays Hec’s fellow homeless pal Hazel and Sarah Solemani as Sara, who runs the shelter. And while Gina McKee’s turn as Hec’s sister Lizzie is only a few minutes long, it delivers one of the film’s most emotional moments.
As the story unfolds, Emily Barker’s lovely, slide guitar-punctuated score adds a folktale feeling. But the biggest revelation of this film is its writer-director. This is his first feature film but Gavin has been a successful photographer for years, and is particularly noted for his portraits. His eye for faces carries over to motion pictures exquisitely; the camera lingers over expressions and movements, while big speeches are eschewed for naturalistic dialogue.
The effect is a film that leaves you with a lingering glow about the warmth of human relationships, and their inspiring ability to endure and flourish even under the saddest of circumstances. It’s wonderful, uplifting stuff, and full of the true spirit of Christmas.
Selected release from Fri 11 Dec.