FILM REVIEW: Living starring Bill Nighy

English hierarchy and convention in the 50s are beautifully represented in all their stultifying glory in this slow-moving, painful but funny drama, about a Departmental Manager at the London County Council, coping with loss in the traditional manner, by repressing all his emotions.

Living movie poster showing star Bill Nighy looking at his watch

All the cliches of post-war middle-class British society are covered: bowler hats, punctuality, understatement, knowing ones place, stiff upper lip, phlegm, decorum, routine, rules, ‘it’s not the done thing to be jolly in the morning’; all in a day’s existence. Cue lots subtle body language, a tilt of the head, a sharp look, accompanied by pregnant pauses, because the hive mind doesn’t need to finish sentences, doesn’t need to even start them.  Within the microclimate of the LCC, work consists of cultivated inertia and Mr Williams (Bill Nigh) has got it down to a tee.

And yet… when the catalyst does come to Mr Williams, (nicknamed ‘Mr Zombie’), the seemingly immutable norms are all too easily and suddenly shattered. Our Manager goes from pen-pusher to superhero.  Think, the moment Gandalf expels Saruman from King Theoden in LoTR! He pulls his finger out, applies himself, makes a difference.  Enablers such as his beautifully acted sensitive, empathetic secretary and a wild-boy writer, help him learn to live a bit better.

The story has been borrowed from an Akira Kurosawa film of 1952, and transposed into an English context by Kazuo Ishiguro, Japanese author of Remains of the Day. His forte is exquisite portrayals of vanished British ways of life. Interestingly, the two cultures of the 1950s had many similarities and it feels quite seamless.

It made me reflect on how familiar and alien this world is to me. It was the world my mother was young in, the 40s-50s, so much of that baggage she has given to me. And yet I am a child of the 70s-80s, so I have a free-spirited, irreverent overlay. It felt strangely reassuring, if suffocating. I wondered what aspects of my formative years I have instilled in my children, and what the Noughties and Tens will add to their outlooks.

How does he transform and who else feels the ripples? Go see. Definitely.

The trailer 

Facebook Comments