Sometimes Always Never, directed by Carl Hunter, is a delightfully quirky film puzzle that revolves around Scrabble and that always-compelling national treasure Bill Nighy.
Triple Word Scoreby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
In Sometimes Always Never Bill Nighy is Alan, a dapper elderly tailor, who’s drily witty but also so self-contained that there’s a chilly, fractious distance between him and his younger son Peter (Sam Riley), his wife (Alice Lowe) and their young son Jack (Louis Healy).
Alan is a Scrabble fanatic and word wizard. The enduring sadness at the heart of his life is an argument years ago in a game of Scrabble about the word ‘zo’ and a triple word score, over which his favourite son Michael, also an ace Scrabbler, stormed out. Michael has not been in contact with the family since. But now a body that might be the estranged Michael’s has been found. Alan and Peter have to travel to the morgue together to identify it.
Even struggling slightly with a Liverpool accent, Nighy is phenomenal. Although his character seems emotionally distant, he tugs at the heartstrings as he struggles to try in his idiosyncratic way to put things right with his neglected family, both absent and present.
There’s wry comedy too as he hustles Tim McInnerney, a fellow B&B guest, in a Scrabble game and finds a love interest in Jenny Agutter, proving that breaking the rules is not a teenage prerogative. Alexei Sayle shows up in a sympathetic cameo.
In fact, Alan’s insouciant attitude helps him bond with his young grandson Jack. After Peter takes Alan in, they have to share a bedroom. Learning computer skills from Jack leads Alan to believe that an online Scrabble player whose style he recognises could be the missing Michael.
Alan is someone so gifted with the knowledge of obscure words that he’s a walking dictionary. His personality quirk comically compels him, using his handy Dymo labeller, to label any everyday object that stands still long enough. Yet despite having the vocabulary, it’s hard for him to communicate anything connected with feelings.
The events the film brings him in contact with are a learning curve for him. He learns computer skills from Jack. He reciprocates when, as a menswear professional, he schools his grandson in the art of suit wearing to help him win a girl he fancies. To pass muster as an immaculate dresser, you must know how to fasten your jacket – its triple buttons should be engaged, from top to bottom, sometimes, always and never.
Sometimes Always Never is scripted – also immaculately – by Frank Cottrell Boyce (Yesterday, amongst many others). It’s universally well acted and it’s directed with an inventive, original visual style that matches the audacity of basing a film on Scrabble, by TV director Carl Hunter. The end result is unusual, intriguing and endearing.
Sometimes Always Never premiered at the BFI London Film Festival and is released on 14 June 2019 in the UK.