Few films commit to their titles like Ordinary Love. This is a movie of calm, contemplative realism that never falsely raises its stakes as it studies the effect of a cancer diagnosis on a retired couple in Belfast. This couple is Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson), and after Joan is informed she has breast cancer, the pair of them have to start working through it together and in their separate ways.
They’re a very solid couple, still in love and devoted to keeping one another as protected from pain and fear as possible. Ordinary Love is very moving without ever needing to add to the drama of the initial diagnosis, finding terror in the unknown of the disease, but also laughs and happiness in Joan and Tom’s back and forth and the camaraderie of the cancer ward.
It’s a simple, well-observed, and poignant script from Owen McAfferty, acted with beautiful understatement by Manville and Neeson, who’s the best he’s been for quite a while. Unfussy but efficient visuals and direction by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn make great use of the greys and blacks in the couple’s home, and Ordinary Love finds lots of engaging ways to show the passage of time as Joan makes steady progress through her surgeries and chemotherapy.
At the hospital, the light is harsher and colder, and Manville does a phenomenal job of conveying the general chilly discomfort of being poked and prodded, even outside of the general agony of cancer treatments.
Everything is completely believable, the relationship and the home clearly lived in, and it’s this that gives Ordinary Love its quiet, but sometimes overwhelming, power. Tragedy sits side by side with hope and grace without drawing too much attention to itself, making for a confident, affecting story of tested love.
CAST: Lesley Manville, Liam Neeson
DIRECTORS: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn
WRITER: Owen McAfferty
SYNOPSIS: A look at the lives of a middle-aged couple in the midst of a breast cancer diagnosis for the wife.