Writer/Director: Tom Browne
Cast: Daniel Cerquiera, Gemma Jones, Richard Johnson Leonard
80mins UK Drama
Many of us will be familiar with the story at the heart of Tom Browne’s astonishing debut RADIATOR. A three-hander, it takes place in a ramshackle house in the Cumbrian countryside where middle-aged Daniel’s parents are coping with life in their 80s. Leonard, his father (played insightfully by 86 year old Richard Johnson), is unable to get upstairs anymore and has taken up residence on the sofa from whence he issues orders, frustrated at not being in control anymore. Mariah, (a touching turn from Gemma Jones), potters endlessly around the domestic muddle, her confusion possible down to senile dementia – she is a kindly but a desperate figure. Daniel’s personal life is far from satisfactory (he is played convincingly by Daniel Cerqueira and co-wrote the screenplay), yet he feels permanently at odds with the situation, powerless as he probably did as a child and guilty now as an adult, taking time off work to support them, whilst being the permanent whipping boy of his curmudgeonly dad. Venturing into the village he bumps into a neighbour who chides him further for his lack of parental support.
Tom Browne’s story resonates deeply with us all, or will eventually, as our parents become our own badly-behaved children. Just like Daniel, we grapple with our own lives and our own, often difficult, offspring. Middle age turns into a three-pronged assault course, unless we have been bereaved already. In Browne’s case the film is based on his own reality, with the actors playing his own parents. What he reflects in the narrative is exactly what we all experience, and offers up an overriding sense of empathy and strangely, a feeling of relief: a gut-wrenching feeling of pity, an overwhelming desire to help, an occasional feeling of anger at our parents’ self-centredness, a niggling feeling that this will be us one day: a desperate need to be with them as much as possible – in case they die any minute – yet a powerful reluctance not to lose the threads of our own, often difficult, lives. This is the coalface where we really get to know our parents; in the frustrations of dressing and handling their oblutions, arguing over domestic detritus as they undermine us subtly due to their own feelings of helplessness or even disappointment – as Leonard does here with Daniel. And as he makes clear in this often poignant drama, is that parents are not going to change or even listen to our efforts or suggestions – the die is cast and we are still, in their minds, incapable children – their children. No amount of shouting or arguing will change the way they have always behaved, we just have to accept and understand.
Affectingly, Browne has set the film in his parents’ house, still almost untouched since their recent deaths. It provides interesting food for thought, unless you’ve already choked on its unpalatable reality. MT
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2014. RADIATOR WON THE AUDIENCE AWARD AT GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL 2014