12 Days of Lesley Manville – 7: Ordinary Love (2019)

Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson are nothing but extraordinary as a couple dealing with a cancer diagnosis in Ordinary Love

“Don’t make me cry”

Ordinary Love is not a film to watch if you’re feeling at all emotionally fragile, hence it taking me a rather long time to getting around to it. Written by Owen McCafferty and directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, it follows Joan and Tom, a tenderly caring retired couple, as they deal with the bombshell of her diagnosis with breast cancer and subsequent treatment. Decidely unflashy and almost unbearably emotionally true, it is a devastatingly effective watch.

Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson are exceptional in their roles, carrying almost the entire film on their backs. Joan and Tom’s relationship is characterised by an easy banter and McCafferty sketches out so well what happens when light jokes aren’t enough to get you through the day, when the gravity of the situation threatens to upend everything. It turns out that they have experienced something this tectonic before, the death of their daughter (details strategically and cleverly withheld) but even so, this is a brand new challenge.

From diagnosis to chemo, surgery to recovery, their marriage is put under such strain as every interaction becomes supercharged. Nipping to the loo while waiting to be called to the doctor, interpreting the length of time it takes a doctor to arrive, the definition of ‘cancer-free’, nothing is normal any more while yet still being ordinary. Manville excels as Joan, her agonies and indignities often wordless but writ large in every expression and Neeson captures the helpless isolation of a loved one who struggles to know what to do besides just be there.

The introduction of David Wilmot’s Peter widens the universe of the film just slightly, a former schoolteacher of their daughter and a terminal cancer patient, his presence allows Joan vital moments of camaraderie, especially where wigs are concerned, and Amit Shah as his partner Steve also permits Tom to grow emotionally (Shah really is superb in this small but essential role). Equal parts heart-breaking and soul-lifting, a gorgeous film that might very well leaving you sobbing.

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