A world doesn’t have to be spectacular to be cinematic – often the most enthralling stories are worthy of the big screen simply because they capture the ruptures and repairs that shake and shape our everyday lives. Ordinary Love stands confidently in the realms of the real, taking an ordinary marriage between Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) and revealing the tenderness and humour that prevail even as a breast cancer diagnosis rewrites the rhythm of their lives.
All Tom wants from the doctors is a clear prognosis. But this isn’t something you can categorise; as one nurse notes, “there is no normal” when it comes to cancer. Indeed, though films about families devastated by the disease are not hard to find, it would be dangerously reductive to dismiss this as unoriginal. Despite ravaging almost half of the population, it hits no two people the same way, and Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s feature pays homage to one of humanity’s greatest struggles by painting an entirely personal portrait.
There is no attempt here to craft drama from incredible circumstances or intricate artifice; the heart-wrenching moments in the movie come from one couple’s unique reaction to news that is given countless times all over the world every day. Together, Manville and Neeson invite us into an utterly captivating relationship, their affection never faltering as they navigate the unbearable agony of chemotherapy, of not knowing what the future holds, of terrible arguments that rear their ugly heads at the height of despair. But their performances also evoke the joy that comes from the tiniest moments – from Tom’s silly jokes and Joan’s terrible wig. It captures the humour of hospital wards, the solidarity and compassion, the teary eyes and entwined hands. Life doesn’t stop when it is threatened: if anything, it becomes more vivid.
Indeed, aesthetically, Ordinary Love revels in the mundane. It frames an empty house, follows a bed wheeling along a hospital floor, lingers on closeups through long scans. One particularly poignant recurring shot of the couple’s routine walk along the seafront displays simple, unadulterated beauty. A tree in the foreground changes with the seasons as we journey full circle from Christmas to Christmas. Arguments come and go like leaves but love remains, growing ever stronger.
Ordinary Love is released nationwide on 6th December 2019.
Watch the trailer for Ordinary Love here: