Acting veteran James Fox, who’s had memorable supporting parts in everything from The Remains Of The Day to Sherlock Holmes, gives a remarkable performance in the lead role of A Long Way From Home, a slight and quiet but well observed drama from Virginia Gilbert.
He plays an ageing British husband, Joseph, living out the twilight of his life in the south of France. But in spite of the idyllic location, Joseph’s existence with wife Brenda (Brenda Fricker) has become lonesome and mundane, spending every day walking the same streets and every night in the same restaurant. The change that he so desperately craves arrives, however, when a young couple from London, Suzanne (Natalie Dormer) and Mark (Paul Nicholls), spend their holidays in the village and he finds himself infatuated with the young girl.
Writer and director Virginia Gilbert does an impressive job of capturing both the worn relationship of our central duo in contrast to the sprightliness of Mark and Suzanne. When we first meet Joseph and Brenda we do so in a serious of long, repetitive, distant takes almost completely devoid of dialogue, portraying how after almost fifty years of marriage they have little left to say to each other and their spark has inevitably disappeared. But with the entrance or Mark and particularly Suzanne into Joseph’s life when they visit the old couple’s regular restaurant we see a subtle transformation in the film’s style. More attached, faster paced and with a new-found emotional warmth, it represents the enthusiasm he relocates through this new-found love.
For the duration of A Long Way From Home, we bear witness as Joseph attempts to get closer to the couple as a way of being near Suzanne, be it following them to a tourist spot they mentioned they were attending or offering to drive them to a winery Mark wants to visit. There’s nothing particularly sexual about Joseph’s longing for Suzanne, though Brenda is clearly distressed by her husband’s search for love elsewhere; what the film portrays is instead a yearning for new horizons, to passionately care about something and be cared for in return in a way that has long faded from Joseph’s life.
As these desires and lusts therefore remain repressed and unexpressed, most of what transpires between Joseph and Suzanne occurs through body language. A less talented actor may not have been up to the task but James Fox does this extraordinarily. He has a wonderful ability to say more through a subtle glance than any words could.
But A Long Way From Home is a tale of couples both old and new with almost as much focus placed on Suzanne as it is on Joseph. Unsure of whether she wants to commit to a life with her boyfriend Mark, she obtains the wisdom about life and love through her time with Joseph – who she sees as the father she never had – to be able to make up her mind. Natalie Dormer, recognizable from her now regular role in HBO’s Game Of Thrones, plays the part admirably.
A Long Way From Home plays at the Edinburgh Film Festival on Thursday June 20th and Saturday June 22nd