Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Thea Sharrock
Stars: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Janet McTeer, Charles Dance, Matthew Lewis, Vanessa Kirby, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, Jenna Coleman, Stepehen Peacocke, Henri Charles, Samantha Spiro.
A couple of years ago we saw the wonderful French comedy/drama The Intouchables which told of the unusual friendship that developed between a quadriplegic and his carer, a refugee from the wrong side of the tracks. It was a friendship that transformed both their lives. And similarly The Sessions told of the friendship that developed between a disabled man and a sex therapist. There are elements of both those films in the moving tear jerker Me Before You. The film also has touches of those doomed romances like the classic tear jerker Love Story and the more recent heartbreaking young adult romance The Fault In Our Stars.
Me Before You is based on the best selling novel from Jojo Moyes, who also wrote the screenplay, and it deliberately tugs at the heartstrings. Moyes has made a few changes to the novel for the screen adaptation, removing a couple of characters and subplots to retain the essential ingredients of the central narrative.
Will Traynor (played by Sam Claflin, from the romantic comedy Love, Rosie, The Hunger Games, etc) is a wealthy and ambitious young banker and extreme sports athlete who led an exciting and vital life until a road accident left him paralysed from the neck down and wheelchair bound. Will has thoughts of travelling to Switzerland to end his suffering, although he has promised his parents to give it six months to rethink his decision. His rude manner, self pity and callous attitude has driven away a succession of carers unable to handle him.
Then along comes Lou Clarke (Emilia Clarke, from Game Of Thrones, Terminator: Genisys, etc), a vibrant, chatty, eternally optimistic and quirky 26 year old from a working class family, with a daggy fashion sense. Lou has recently found herself unemployed and out of desperation she applies for a job as Will’s carer, even though she has no experience. She has been hired as a desperate last ditch attempt to change Will’s mind. But somehow Lou makes a connection with the jaded and disillusioned Will, and her thirst for life and sparkling personality soon temporarily reawaken something in Will. Much to the surprise and pleasure of his long suffering parents (Charles Dance and Janet McTeer) who are still trying to cope with Will’s decision to end his life.
Lou takes Will out to the races – an outing that goes disastrously wrong in so many ways – and more successfully to a symphony concert and even to the wedding of his former girlfriend (Vanessa Kirby) who fled to the arms of his best friend (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) following his accident.
Me Before You is the feature film directorial debut for Thea Sharrock, who hails from a background in the theatre and television (Call The Midwife, etc). She maintains a fairly upbeat mood for much of the film, with plenty of gentle humour, and her treatment of the subject matter is sympathetic. However its downbeat ending may be a little off-putting for some viewers. It has certainly aroused the ire of disability support groups in the UK who have labelled the film “disability snuff porn”. The film does explore some complex and controversial themes such as euthanasia, freedom of choice and free will. But it also highlights the daily difficulties Will faces, and his constant battle with illness.
Clark is a bundle of screwball energy here, full of an infectious enthusiasm, and she lights up virtually every scene with her appealing and warm personality. She has a winning presence. The handsome Claflin also does well here and his gradual transition from surly bully to a softer and more sympathetic character is credibly done. Claflin also does well delivering a good performance that requires him to convey emotions and his inner thoughts only with his facial expressions. There is a wonderful chemistry between Claflin and Clarke that enriches the material.
The supporting cast are also solid. Matthew Lewis brings a touch of humour to the film with his performance as Patrick, Lou’s narcissistic sports mad boyfriend who gorws increasingly jealous of her relationship with Will. Former Home And Away star Stephen Peacocke (recently seen in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) has a nice presence as Nathan, Will’s down to earth physical trainer cum nurse. Dance and McTeer bring warmth and gravitas to their roles as Will’s austere but caring parents. And there is a nice cameo from Joanna Lumley.
The film looks good, thanks to cinematographer Remi Adefarasin’s glossy visuals of the Wales countryside, and some great production design from Andrew McAlpine, who has created Will’s fabulous quarters in a converted former stable in the spectacular castle the Traynors call home.