“Once the kids have gone, what’s left of us?”
Renewing the creative partnership between director Roger Michell and writer Hanif Kureishi (which has included The Buddha of Suburbia and The Mother), Le Week-End was released in 2013 to well-deserved, general acclaim. And it really is well-deserved, this is the third time I’ve seen the film and I still find myself hugely enamoured of its bittersweet portrait of a long-married couple trying to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in Paris, with the emphasis very much on bitter.
We first meet Meg (Lindsay Duncan) and Nick (Jim Broadbent) on the Eurostar, where we first see the niggling signs of discontentment, the tiny behavioural tics that in isolation seem manageable, but over a lifetime, build up to intolerable degrees. Meg’s frustration boils over with a snafu over Nick’s hotel booking and though they soon replace that establishment with a far fancier one they can ill afford, the scene is set for an excoriating examination into the state of their marriage.
It is to Duncan’s immense credit that she is able to maintain a certain likeability to Meg given the character’s predilection to the flintier side of harsh (probably the one weakness Kureishi and Michell display). “Can I touch you?” begins a tentative sexual advance from Nick, “what for?” is the rejoinder fired back, and Meg drips disdain all over his suggestions that roleplay might spice things up, spurning even the linking of arms in one particularly injurious scene.
But we come to see whence her frustrations as Nick, a professor of philosophy at a former polytechnic, reveals his workplace woes and with both of them fast approaching retirement age, the spectre of having to spend even more time together weighs heavily over them. But though the depression and disappointment on show may read as oppressive, Duncan and Broadbent flesh out the roles with sundry details of how indeed people do put up with foibles for the pleasures beneath.
There’s a bracing deal of honesty about both of them in the end, underscored by a genial wit, which allows them to be touchingly vulnerable, despite the vicious whip of the tongue-lashing from moments before. And as things come to a head at a party for an old colleague of Nick’s (Jeff Goldblum in the most Goldblumenian of roles), even the darkest hours have a chink of light at the end of them. A beautiful, intimate look into the realities of getting older.