Ordinary Love (2019)

Owen McCafferty’s sensitive and beautifully observed drama Ordinary Love, starring Lesley Manville and Liam Neeson, is subtly directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn (Good Vibrations).

Facing Fear Together

by Chris Drew

Ordinary Love

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The calm existence of middle-aged married couple Joan (Lesley Manville, Phantom Thread) and Tom (Liam Neeson, Taken) is shattered when Joan is diagnosed with breast cancer.    

Joan and Tom’s life together is wonderfully set up with all the routines of daily married life; disagreeing on decisions in the supermarket, choosing a room to redecorate, cutting down on caffeine, taking chops out of the freezer for dinner and, in a lovely repeated pattern, going for walks together in the same place. 

Joan and Tom have been through a bereavement, although we are never given full details, and they have to draw on that strength when Joan discovers a lump in her breast. 

Her diagnosis and treatment is so realistically portrayed that it is akin to watching a deeply personal documentary that follows a real couple, a credit to both Irish playwright Owen McCafferty’s moving and insightful debut screenplay and the perfect performances of the two leads. 

We see long waits in cold-looking hospital waiting rooms, the agony of anticipating results, the reality of uncomfortable intimate scans and then the pain and discomfort of chemotherapy on both body and spirit. 

Curiously, and perhaps unrealistically, the couple are never given a support network of family or friends, but this sets them up as an independent unit fighting their own battle. However, Joan unexpectedly bonds through chemotherapy with former acquaintance Peter (David Wilmot, Calvary), which becomes a touching subplot. 

Even in the most testing of circumstances there are occasional humorous releases between Joan and Tom; joking about whether Tom should bring Joan risqué underwear to the hospital is a lovely moment.  

The film excels in portraying how battling illness affects both the patient and the spouse supporting them through it.  At all stages the two are in this together.

Neeson, with scruffy facial hair and his natural accent, is on fine everyman form. He displays Tom’s concern and anguish in quiet moments: while continually having to wait for Joan at the hospital, though the loss of a pet betrays the depth of his true feelings.

Manville really shines, her vanity-free performance showing Joan’s strength and bravery, and also her kindness and compassion to others in the same position.  A couple of times she boils over with emotion and fiercely releases her frustration to Tom, while in the quieter moments the depth of her fear comes across subtly in the slightest glance or a tear-filled eye.   

While depicting one of the darkest times a couple can go through, Ordinary Love is a story of the extraordinary power of love and the human spirit.              

Ordinary Love is released on 6 December 2019 in the UK.

Join the discussion