15 April 2024

BFI London Film Festival 2021 Review – True Things (2021)

Harry Wootliff returns to the LFF with her second feature. Her first, Only You, with its examination of a whirlwind relationship hitting troubled emotional waters, was one of the hits of LFF 2018 and with True Things, she’s back with another couple under her searching microscope. But that’s where the similarities end.

Kate’s (Ruth Wilson) life has hit a brick wall. Her job in a claims office feels like her entire life – dull, boring and going nowhere – and respite is in short supply. Forays into online dating don’t help, and attempts by her friend Alison (Hayley Squires) to set her up with a date are even worse. With things heading downhill at work, what looks like the perfect distraction walks through the door in the shape of a new client, a cheekily charming ex-prisoner (Tom Burke) who takes an immediate shine to her. It all escalates quickly – a quickie in a car park, a few more spontaneous dates – and suddenly she feels alive again. But, from basking in the glow of his attention, she soon starts to wonder if their relationship is a one way street.

This is no romance, but it is a love story of sorts. The thrill that Kate feels when the attractive man on the other side of the desk pays her attention, seems to like her. It brings her back to life, makes her feel important and spurs her to do things she’d never usually consider – even if there’s an irritating doubt in the back of her mind about him. The audience has more than a doubt: outsiders that we are, and with the objectivity that goes with it, we can see more of the reality of the situation and for anybody who’s ever found themselves in a similar situation, with all its uncertainty, desperation and all-consuming longing, it will strike the most sensitive of nerves.

While we get to understand Kate, what we know about him could be written on a postage stamp. We only know what he tells us about the reason why he was in prison and we’re never even sure of his name: according to his records, it’s Sam (assuming he was telling the truth) and he’s listed in Kate’s phone as Blond. What we do know is that he’s a manipulator, knowing just how to keep her dangling, how to push her buttons and how to cause her maximum hurt. And yet you can see his appeal in that roguish twinkle, the moments of tenderness and his physicality.

As with Only You, Wootliff has a formidable pair of actors at the centre of the story. Ruth Wilson can do no wrong in this writer’s book and she’s outstanding as the simultaneously prickly but vulnerable Kate, desperately looking for the soulmate who will give her life some meaning and purpose but cursed with poor judgement. She’s not exactly sympathetic, but Wilson takes us into her world to such an extent that, even if we don’t exactly warm to her, we understand and empathise. Burke is brilliantly enigmatic, attractive and repellent in equal measure – a tricky act to pull off successfully. There’s real chemistry and spark between the two, although it’s never especially romantic and nor is the setting, from the gritty, down at heel seaside town to the equally grimy cinematography which fights shy of the more familiar soft focus. For Wootliff, this is an impressive second feature, one which demonstrates a near-forensic ability to portray complicated relationships on screen and marks her out as one of the best of the newer batch of British directors.

The final section is perhaps less satisfying that the rest of the film as a whole. There’s an element of messiness and we’re left with little in the way of explanation after all our efforts in trying to get to know both Kate and Blond. But this isn’t a neat story and, while we might feel we deserve a tidy conclusion, this is not a film that needs – or, indeed, wants – one.


Drama | Cert: tbc | London Film Festival, 10, 11 and 17 October | Cinemas from 1 April 2022 | Dir. Harry Wootliff | Ruth Wilson, Tom Burke, Hayley Squires, Elizabeth Rider, Frank McCusker.

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