Thursday, January 16, 2014

Love on the 7:39

“I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.”

Whether Tennyson’s paean to love would be quite how the star-crossed lovers in “The 7:39”  a television film written by David Nicholls would see it I’m not quite sure. But I think they would. “No regrets” says Carl (David Morrissey) at the end – and Sally (Sheridan Smith) replies that he doesn't need to say that “because you don't mean it”. But that is not said in any spirit of bitterness but more as a statement of the obvious – there is no future for either of them other than the one they choose. To be apart. And so there must be regrets – they have loved, and lost.

David Nicholls is the author of the  novel and Film “One Day” which was clever and sad and which showed the author’s exceptional feel for female characters and the female psyche. Emma in “One Day” has some similarities with Sally in “The 7:39” – bright, attractive and more vulnerable than she will admit. Sally is entering her 30s with a failed marriage behind her but in a permanent relationship with Ryan (Sean Maguire) who she is going to marry. He is a well-meaning but empty stud who has little self-doubt and even before Sally meets Carl you can see that she is having doubts about a Life of Ryan. So when she bumps into Carl on the 7:39 train, which they both use for their daily commute to London, perhaps she is, without really knowing it, ready for a bit of a fling. And maybe Carl is as well but for different reasons.

Carl (mid forties) is married to Maggie (Olivia Colman) and they are your archetypical middle-class suburban family. Two slightly surly teenage children. A nice house in a leafy Surrey town with a good train service to Waterloo. He is a sales manager at a London commercial property firm with a younger boss (Justin Salinger) – a menacing, ambitious, deeply unpleasant man who asserts his authority and manages in an uncaring way. Carl doesn't much like his job, despises his boss and probably thinks that he could have done better in life than  be where he is. But the pay is good and he needs the money – his children are approaching University age and that has to be paid for. But its all a bit predictable and repetitive  the family, the commuting, the work… we are firmly in mid-life-crisis territory here.

So when Sally meets Carl each of them has a hidden reason to explain why they might have a fling. But this is more than a fling and much more than just fun between the sheets. When on the discovery of the affair Maggie asks Carl if it is “love” he stutteringly he admits that it is. For Sally it is perhaps love by comparison with what she has with Ryan – a relationship which is rather over-graphically physical but in truth not much else. He’s a bit of a dick – and not much more. She was perhaps seeking an excuse to walk away from Ryan – Carl has no reason to want to walk away from Maggie and his children, but love makes him do it.

This is a feature film length story and indeed could easily haver been cut as one whole rather than two one hour parts. It is tightly directed with some good location shooting on the South Bank and across the river in and around Aldwych. There is an authenticity about the story which the locations enhance but which is underpinned by the truly outstanding performances by the three principals. Morrissey is utterly convincing as the man with the crisis. Olivia Colman quite brilliant as the betrayed wife. Her controlled fury when she finds out about the affair is exceptional acting by this actress at the top of her form. And Sheridan Smith can do more with a gentle glance and a silent smile than many actresses with half a page of dialogue! Her attractiveness is not that of a plastic femme fatale and she is much more than the  pretty girl next door. She is a mature woman, who has lived rather more than her years would suggest – she has a good job that she is proficient at and is in control of her life. Until Carl comes along anyway. But even though she is rather swept away by Carl she is still in control and she knows her assets. When she dresses up for the dinner on the evening when the affair gets properly underway she looks divine. If the relationship doesn't develop it won’t be for wan739t of her trying ! Later she knows exactly what she is doing when she dresses is tight jeans for the day out the lovers have together sightseeing!

“One Day” was a devastatingly sad story and in a way “The 7:39” is as well. Let’s hope that David Nicholls can find a way towards a happy ending soon! That said does the love being lost in the story really make it unhappy? At the end (two years on) we see Carl returned to his family and Sally with a baby and new man looking cheerful. But Carl’s smile as he spots this from a distance (and gets a wave of recognition from Sally) suggests that there were some “might have beens” that he regrets.


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