Lovingly written and directed by Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger, this modest, bitter-sweet romantic comedy makes up in ambition what it lacks in budget. Bill Nighy, Douglas Henshall and Tom Hollander play three very different males who are forced by the funeral of a mutual friend to re-think their past and their future. Shot on location in Essex seaside town of Maldon, the film’s unfamiliar locations are as refreshing as its insights into friendship, romance and emotional fallibility.
Three segments, each filmed in a distinctive style, show the same events from the point of view of each of the three main protagonists. When Dan (Nighy), a faithful husband and loving father, is tempted by a flirtatious Frenchwoman he meets at the late Stuart’s funeral, his chronic indecision is captured by some restless camerawork. By contrast, a static camera is used to convey the emotional paralysis felt by restaurateur Nick (Hollander), who was Stuart’s gay lover. Now, surprisingly, he finds himself pursued by Charlie (Sukie Smith). The confusion experienced by the wayward Tim (Henshall), who was Stuart’s best friend before he left to travel the world, is conveyed through edgy, hand-held camera movements. It doesn’t help that Henshall has fallen hook, line and sinker for Leah (Josephine Butler), who happens to be his steady step-brother David’s old flame.
Densely scripted yet capable of moments of loose-wristed humour, The Lawless Heart would have benefited from some of the melancholy intelligence that informed David Kane’s similar This Year’s Love. Even so, the uniformly fine performances and crisp photography by Sean Bobbitt, who shot Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland, lend it a sharp focus and a warm feel.UK, 2001. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 99 mins.