Film Review: X+Y (2014)

“When somebody says they love you, it means they see something in you they think is worth something…it adds value to you” 

Clearly Nick Payne was onto something. In his play Constellations, the infinite possibilities of the relationship between characters Marianne and Dave – as originally played by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall – are explored and wouldn’t you know it, fate conspired to bring them together again (Hawkins and Spall that is) in UK film X+Y, and this time with a different twist on the illness. For one reason or another, I didn’t get round to seeing X+Y (or A Brilliant Young Mind as the US would have it) at the cinema last year, which is madness considering how tailor-made for me this film is, but ultimately I’m quite glad I got to watch it in the privacy of my own home as there was a fair amount of ugly crying by the end!

Which in itself isn’t that surprising as it was written by talented playwright James Graham (The Man, This House) in a beautifully, unashamedly warm-hearted manner. Inspired by documentary Beautiful Young Minds, it follows Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield), a teenager somewhere on the autistic spectrum who is something of a mathematical genius. Encouraged by his maths tutor Humphreys (Spall), himself a former prodigy and suffering from his own condition, and the tireless patience of his widowed mother (Hawkins), he’s selected to represent the UK at the International Mathematical Olympiad but to do so means facing up to some major challenges.

Morgan Matthews’ film is sensitively done and achingly moving from start to finish. Dappled with flashbacks to when his father was alive (a warm Martin McCann and an excellent Edward Baker-Close as the 9 year old Nathan), Nathan’s journey is beautifully depicted as he remains oblivious to Humphreys’ constant joking and his mother’s pleas for just a little affection to be reciprocated, something he seems incapable of doing. But his eyes are opened by travel abroad, his heart opened by first crush and fellow mathlete Zhang Mei (a lovely turn from Jo Yang) and his mind opened by meeting others like him (the range beautifully bookended by Alex Lawther’s high-functioning Isaac and Jake Davies’ painfully awkward Luke). 

It’s Sally Hawkins who ought to have run away with all the acting prizes with her stunningly empathetic performance as single mum Julie. A heart full of love that is unable to be received and pain that isn’t acknowledged, there’s such soulful depth to her every action that I can’t imagine anyone remaining dry-eyed watching her, especially in the final scene when she finally finds the language to speak that Nathan can understand. There’s good support too from Eddie Marsan’s driven maths coach and nice cameos from Jamie Ballard’s kindly headteacher and Clare Burt’s plain-spoken but compassionate doctor – a great British film that deserved much more attention.

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