Film review: Ordinary Love (12A), 7.5/10
Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson deliver compelling performances as a married couple in turmoil in Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn's intimate drama based on a script by Northern Irish playwright Owen McCafferty.
Tracing a familiar narrative arc, Ordinary Love elegantly captures the minutiae of daily life for a husband and wife who fondly accept each other's foibles and find comfort in the easy silences that punctuate their domestic routine.
Lasting affection resonates in moments of the mundane - her saucy addition to a soup recipe, a blushing apology when a weak bladder delays an important meeting, or a seemingly benign conversation about his fruit and vegetable intake during a weekly visit to the supermarket.
'Are we having an argument about the frequency I use a juicer we don't own?' Neeson playfully scolds his spouse.
The opening 15 minutes of McCafferty's gently paced script encourage us to cosy up to the lead characters in their suburban bubble before giant ripples from a cancer diagnosis test the strength of marital bonds.
The lead actors are handsomely matched and share a delightful on-screen chemistry that compels us to stand hopefully beside their long-time lovebirds through chemotherapy and the inevitable squabbles borne of crippling fear and frustration.
When Manville mournfully observes 'We're all just really on our own', rows of hearts will surely break.
Middle-aged Joan (Manville) and Tom (Neeson) have slowly come to terms with their death of their daughter Debbie and have settled back into a routine under their cloud of grief.
They make regular pilgrimages to the grave and keep fit by walking side by side along a busy road, using one particular tree as a marker to decide when to turn for home.
In the shower after one stroll, Joan feels a lump in her left breast and the couple make an urgent appointment at the local hospital, where she is diagnosed with cancer.
She begins treatment in earnest, relying on Tom to drive her to and from appointments as clumps of hair fall out and her body weathers crashing waves of nausea and exhaustion.
Their marriage feels the strain and Tom, who is used to being master of his destiny, struggles to articulate his feelings of impotency.
Meanwhile, Joan finds a cheerleader in fellow cancer patient Peter (David Wilmot), whose partner Steve (Amit Shah) is dumbstruck by the harsh reality of their situation.
Ordinary Love unfolds without directorial fanfare, coolly observing Joan and Tom as they contend with mortality.
D'Sa and Leyburn's picture draws its power from the actors, whose fearlessness is touchingly evident in a tender love scene.
Earthy humour cuts through the sombre self-reflection - 'Are you going to miss these?' quips Joan shortly before a double mastectomy - but doesn't dull the impact of well-spaced emotional blows.