SOMETIMES ALWAYS NEVER

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Carl Hunter

Stars: Bill Nighy, Sam Riley, Alice Lowe, Louis Healy, Jenny Agutter, Tim McInnerny, Alexei Sayle.

Sometimes Always Never (2018)

The marvelous Bill Nighy is at his droll, aloof and deadpan best in this quirky, subtly observed character driven comedy/drama.

Nighy plays Alan, a Scrabble-obsessed tailor who has been trying to find his oldest son Michael, who stormed out of the family home many years earlier over an argument during a game of Scrabble, never to return. Alan’s relationship with his other son Peter (Sam Riley, from Control, etc) is strained, and this forms the crux of the film. The long-suffering Peter has always felt like he has been living in Michael’s shadow.

After Alan sells his tailor shop, he moves into Peter’s house for a short stay with Peter’s wife Sue (Alice Lowe, from Ben Wheatley’s blackly comic Sightseers, etc) and grandson Jack (Louis Healy in his feature film debut). Alan’s presence has a positive effect on the rebellious Jack and the pair slowly begin to bond. Alan, who is a champion Scrabble player, and Jack also bond over Scrabble on-line. Which is when Alan becomes obsessed with another on-line player who he thinks is the missing Michael.

This quirky film explores themes of complex father son relationships, family, loss, reconciliation, and obsession. The witty and articulate script has been written by Frank Cottrell Boyce (The Railway Man, etc), and is based on his own short story Triple Word Score. The rather obscure title Sometimes Always Never itself refers to the way in which a gentleman’s jacket should be buttoned, but it seemingly has little relevance to the overall drama that unfolds. The dialogue is littered with clever and witty wordplay in keeping with Alan’s obsession with word games.

Sometimes Always Never marks the feature film directorial debut for Carl Hunter, the bassist for the rock band The Farm. He has collaborated with Boyce on a number of short film projects. His low-key direction and whimsical and droll style here is reminiscent of idiosyncratic filmmakers like the eccentric Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki.

But it is the central performances the hold the interest. The prickly Alan is the quintessential Nighy character and he plays it deadpan as the preoccupied Scrabble-obsessed man character whose stoicism masks a deeper emotional pain. His obsession and eccentricities protect him from the pain of the wider world but make him something of a challenge to warm to. Riley is good as the estranged son trying to make a connection with his father. Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run, etc) and Tim McInnerny (the upcoming Mike Leigh epic historical drama Peterloo, etc) pop up in small roles as a couple Alan and Peter meet while on their way to the morgue to identify a body that may or may not be Michael. And there’s a bizarre cameo from comic Alexei Sayle.

There is some striking production design from Tim Dickel (The Lighthouse, etc). Cinematographer Richard Stoddard (better known for his work on tv series like Doctor Who and Becoming Human, etc) gives the film a unique visual style that perfectly complement’s Hunter’s offbeat approach to the material. Characters are often shot through doorways or from angles, and the use of back projection during car journeys gives the film something of an old-fashioned feel.

★★☆

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