Tom (Liam Neeson) and Joan (Lesley Manville) lead an such an ordinary life now that they are retired and as they keep themselves to themselves they are almost invisible to the outside world. That is all about to change when the lump Joan discovers in her breast when she is showering and that turns out to be cancerous
Part of the reason they lead such a quiet life is that their only daughter had died unexpectedly a few years ago and they had never stopped grieving. The possibility of another death in the family puts an enormous strain on them both individually and as a couple. There is one particular point when Joan is undergoing chemo and Tom shouts out “We’re both going through this,” to which Joan screams back “No, we’re not!”
This story set in Northern Ireland from filmmakers Lisa Barros D’Sa, and Glenn Leyburn from a script by Owen McCafferty is essentially a quiet gentle take on how the lives of ordinary people deal with a major and potential fatal scenario. Up until now Tom and Joan’s lives are so ordinary that adding a different ingredient to soup one day becomes a major talking point. Or when Joan receives another bout of bad news from the hospital, on the drive home she is much more concerned about cooking the pork chops she had taken out of the freezer earlier that day.
How they both react to the cancer is very different. Tom has problems confronting it head on and choses to go to the hospital cafeteria rather than hold Joans hand during a chemo session. He rarely shows his anguish in public and waits until he is alone at home.
A scared Joan though is determined to put a brave face on it even though the bouts of severe pain make her question whether she wants to stop the treatment completely. In hospital she meets and befriends Peter (David Wilmott) a gay man who used to teach her daughter many years ago. His cancer is terminal and Steve (Amit Shah) his younger boyfriend is having real trouble accepting the finality of the situation. Joan’s conversations with Peter seem to help them both as they can share this intimacy of actually dealing with their cancer that their respective partners never can.
Lesley Manville (one of Mike Leigh’s regular actors and who more recently picked up an Oscar nomination for Phantom Thread) gives a finely nuanced performance as Joan. Perfectly cast for the part as she doesn’t beg for our sympathy which anyway we give so willingly as she takes her situation in her stride probably better than most of us would.
At first Neeson seemed an odd fit as Tom but as the story progressed and we see both his vulnerability and the chemistry he had with Joan we changed our minds about him.
The subject matter will certainly not appeal to everyone , especially anyone who has ever come close to a similar health-scare scenario. Even though it is a compelling and beautifully executed movie It makes for tough viewing at times, so be sure to have a full box of tissues handy.