Can Hayley Squires stop going through hell in films please? She had to endure it in I, Daniel Blake and she endures it again here in Away. So, in her next role, can she have some happiness for a change?
I was sold on this by the cast and the setting of Blackpool, the northern seaside resort that's approximately an hour away from me and the place I stayed for many a holiday as a child. I wasn't totally sure what to expect from Away beyond a spring and autumn odd couple style story. That's certainly what's being sold in the poster(shown above), which sees a tux-wearing Timothy Spall next to a sullen looking Juno Temple appearing somewhat out of her comfort zone in a ballgown. That image suggests something quirky and heartfelt in its notion of two worlds colliding and some of the traction around Away saw it being likened to Lost In Translation, which perhaps served to perpetuate that initial expectation. However in reality this is a gritty, grubby and dark essay on the old Chinese wisdom of the life debt a person is owed if they save another's life. If it's reminiscent of any film, it's Neil Jordan's Mona Lisa or Paul Andrew Williams' London to Brighton.
Spall is a grizzled and grieving alcoholic intent on taking his life in an off-season Blackpool that proves the irony of the 'Vegas of the North' tag. He's saved by Juno Temple, a former junkie on the run from vengeful Matt Ryan who's determined to be reunited with her 'sister' (Squires). From their initially abrasive yet grudging and weird relationship, a platonic and believable love story gradually takes shape between the two lost souls that is truly affecting thanks to the excellent playing from Spall and Temple.
And it's those performances and how well they create the chemistry between their characters that I'm rating this four out of five stars. Truth be told, it's actually probably only a three and a half star film, maybe even a three, and that's down to Roger Hadfield's script and how the story is told. You see, in an effort to be different, the narrative is like a jigsaw; constantly jumping between the present and back in a way that is really disorientating. I get that Hadfield and the filmmakers clearly wanted to reveal certain things slowly to preserve an air of mystery, but I'm not convinced that jumbling the sequence of events up does anything to help the film, in fact I actually think it hinders it.
Nonetheless, director David Blair - a reliable hand who gave us something similar with Best Laid Plans - delivers a small, relatively non commercial film that boasts a big heart, and I defy anyone not to feel something for this story of hope amongst desolation, fear and tragedy.