Ordinary Love offers a master class in quiet, meaningful, relatable and subtle performances from two veteran actors, Lesley Manville (Phantom Thread) and Liam Neeson (Taken, Schindler’s List). They play Joan and Tom, a loving, long-married couple whose comfortable routine is disrupted by an unexpected diagnosis of breast cancer. The film shines a light on the everyday challenges a couple can face while attempting to navigate uncertainty, illness and grueling treatments with a sense of humor, grace and intimacy. There’s also tremendous sadness, anxiety, frustration and fear.
The story follows Joan and Tom from one Christmas to the next, focusing on the little things – daily walks, grocery shopping, feeding the fish – and cancer’s intrusion on that rhythm, setting off a year-long cascade of operations, chemo, hair loss, scans, strained conversations and life-affirming moments. Tom tries his best to be supportive; Joan tries her best to let him. But it’s a rough road. The tension is palpable as they struggle to hold it together, for each other and individually. The anguish in their eyes and the silences speak volumes.
Ordinary Love was inspired by the experiences of playwright Owen McCafferty and his wife. Writers are often told to write what they know, and with encouragement from friends, McCafferty penned the screenplay, directed by married filmmakers Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn (Good Vibrations). They shot the film in Belfast, so we actually get to hear Liam Neeson sound like Liam Neeson – just a regular guy from Northern Ireland. No forced American accent or high-octane action and stunts in this one. The only “special skills” he needs to call upon here involve the complex emotions of a husband in fear of losing his wife. As for Manville, she delivers a powerful and poignant performance as a wife facing the loss of her life. Like the couple they portray, Neeson and Manville share an easy chemistry.
The subject matter is difficult, but Ordinary Love is not overbearingly heavy. It’s often sweet and humorous and uplifting. An observational drama and love story that exudes believability. In sickness and in health.