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A-Z of country life begins with addicts

PUBLISHED: 14:23 04 February 2009 | UPDATED: 17:10 16 August 2010

BLEAK: Better Things.

BLEAK: Better Things.

THE bleak, melancholy heart of rural England is put under the microscope in first-time feature director Duane Hopkins atmospheric exploration of isolation, loss and love. Composed of a series of interwoven, thematically-linked strands, Better Things fol

THE bleak, melancholy heart of rural England is put under the microscope in first-time feature director Duane Hopkins' atmospheric exploration of isolation, loss and love.

Composed of a series of interwoven, thematically-linked strands, Better Things follows a disparate cast of characters, all united in their withdrawal from the cruelty of life. Rob (Liam Mcllfatrick) is an enervated young heroin addict who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his girlfriend, Tess (Emma Cooper), whose limp body is shown, needle in arm, in the opening scenes. His friends Jon (Freddie Cunliffe) and David (Che Corr) are also users but unlike Rob they have yet to make the move from smoking to injecting. Also finding it difficult to cope with a loss is Larry (Kurt Taylor), a foul-mouthed schoolboy angry that his ex, Rachael (Megan Palmer), has shacked up with someone new.

The youngest of the characters, Gail (Rachel McIntyre), is an agoraphobic who finds solace in romantic literature as her ancient grandmother (Patricia Loveland) reminisces about her dead partner while patiently waiting for her own death. Completing the picture is Mr Gladwin (Frank Bench), a pensioner who can't bring himself to forgive his wife (Betty Bench) for an unnamed act of betrayal that happened sometime in the past.

There's very little in the way of traditional plot or dialogue, with Hopkins electing to tell his story through the layering of artfully constructed snatches of the characters' lives. The effect is mesmerising. Things move along at an almost glacial pace and there's a sense that somewhere behind all of the ennui there's a vast, icy, elemental force slowly sucking the vitality out of everyone it touches until, like Tess, they lie supine, lifeless and drained of blood.

Those who rely on tight plotting to lead them through a film may find the emphasis on mood over narrative makes things difficult to follow but viewers willing to put in the effort are sure to find their patience rewarded by Hopkins' singular, uncompromising vision.

Better Things is in cinemas now.

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