Sometimes Always Never (2019), directed by Carl Hunter and written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, is a quirky dramatic mystery with touches of comedy. It stars Bill Nighy (Alan), Sam Riley (Peter), Alice Lowe (Sue, Peter’s wife), Jenny Agutter (Margaret), Tom McInnerny (Arthur), and Louis Healy (Jack, Peter’s son).
Nighy plays Alan, an articulate, well-dressed widower, a tailor by profession, who moves in temporarily with his adult son Peter and his family. Years ago, Alan’s eldest son Michael walks out on the family over a game of Scrabble and is never heard of since. Alan embarks on a decades-long search to find him which proves fruitless. The film opens with him handing out flyers of his missing son Michael. When a body turns up, Alan and his adult son Peter must identify the remains. Alan’s tenuous relationship with his second son is put to the test. Is the body belonging to his son Michael? Can Alan and his family have closure? Is Michael still alive which Alan suspects when he encounters an online Scrabble player who uses the word “Zo” as his son did so many years ago? The film is full of twists and turns which fuels the dramatic tension of the film.
Nighy’s physical characteristics and social attributes – his lankiness, deep voice, calm demeanor, intelligence, and social graces render a sympathetic nuanced portrait of an elderly man mourning the loss of a son. It’s a well-acted film and all the characters have their moments to shine and show their mettle. The theme of the sudden death of a relationship figures prominently in the narrative and makes the film relatable to a wide audience. Who hasn’t suffered the loss of someone significant or meaningful in their lives? The narrative of the long lost son is juxtaposed against the narrative of Alan’s undying search for his lost son Michael and his relationship with his second son Peter which is simmering with tensions.
It’s an appealing film beautifully shot and acted with an intriguing storyline. The motif of language and connecting runs through the film providing the film with a cohesive structure. The game Scrabble features prominently in the film which not only serves as a means of fostering and not fostering communication and connection but is the clue to solving the mystery of Michael. Alan is a master at the game and in one of the quirkiest scenes in the film, he hustles a couple in a game with a view to shaking down Arthur, Margaret’s husband, out of two hundred British pounds. The couple weaves themselves in and out of the film and provide dramatic and comic relief. One of the most powerful scenes in the film is the scene involving Alan and the coroner behind an opaque glassed paneled door which they have entered to identify the remains, only the shadows of their silhouettes are visible.
It’s an intriguing film because it is, in essence, a re-working of the biblical Jesus parable of The Prodigal Son which appears in Luke 15:11–32 which crops up in the text of the film. But it’s more than a dramatic mystery but a coming of together film where a family marred by tragedy come together to heal and bond, and get on with the job of living. But, it’s also a film about love and redemption. I enjoyed seeing the growing affection between grandfather and grand-son take root, and how Alan and Peter are eventually reconciled.
If you are a fan of the stellar cast like me, you’ll enjoy the film for its dramatic acting performances. If you are a fan of foreign films, you’ll like it for its style of cinematic film making and storytelling. If you are a fan of dramatic mysteries, you’ll like the film for its genre. There’s much to recommend it. Do see it for you won’t be disappointed.
Pacific Northwest Pictures releases Sometimes Always Never on Friday, October 4, 2019, in Toronto, Edmonton, and Calgary