DIR: Thea Sharrock • WRI: Jojo Moyes • PRO: Alison Owen, Karen Rosenfelt • DOP: Remi Adefarasin • ED: John Wilson • MUS: Craig Armstrong • DES: Andrew McAlpine • CAST: Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Jenna Coleman
Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) lives in a small Northern England town and needs a job to help support her struggling family. She soon finds work as a care-giver for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin), a young man paralysed from the chest down after a road accident.
A more cynical plot description of Me Before You would go something like this: Rich young man rescues quirky working class woman from her dull unambitious life. A harsh analysis, yes, but it’s an uncomfortable dichotomy that the film can’t get away from for most of the lengthy running time.
In an attempt to address this, an accusation of Will’s smug superiority is flung at him early on, as if to dispel any whiff of entitlement and upper-class snobbery. But it doesn’t really work, and the juxtaposition continues to grate. It doesn’t help when Lou is patronisingly described as “having potential” more than once.
The nadir is reached when Lou and Will go on holiday. Beautiful hotels and white sandy beaches highlight how inaccessible this sort of lifestyle would be for 99 per cent of the population, and it’s not pleasant to have it so explicitly pointed out.
The film finds firmer dramatic ground when in the company of Lou’s family, who are facing all too real financial struggles.
Moving past this, Me Before You is a stunningly beautiful film – a credit to Remi Adefarasin’s cinematography. Vibrant colours and beautiful set pieces fill nearly every scene. Unfortunately, credit can’t be extended to much else.
This is Thea Sharrock’s first feature film as director, already having a distinguished career as a theatre director. But she struggles here with the transfer to film. The direction is all over the place.
Craig Armstrong’s score is overly ripe and intrusive, but finding room for the requisite Ed Sheeran and Adele numbers that are commonplace in contemporary romantic dramas.
Combine these issues with Moyes’ unsubtle script (adapted from her own novel), Me Before You tips over into clunky melodrama more often than is permissible.
Emilia Clarke’s Lou is the polar opposite of her stoic Khaleesi (a calculated move to avoid typecasting perhaps), but here she turns up the acting dial all the way to 11. All ham and over the top facial expressions which drive to distraction almost immediately. Sam Claflin does a so-so if forgettable job as Will, remaining stony-faced and contemptuous for most of the film.
None of these issues go away entering the third act, but the film improves when the realities of a young man’s quadriplegia are tackled and the diminished quality of life for him and his loved ones are confronted. It’s sensitively dealt with and you suddenly find yourself becoming invested in these people’s lives.
Yes, it’s very stodgy in places, but its warmth and charm shine through sporadically enough to let you overlook the rough hewn edges and social class connotations. But only just.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Me Before You is released 3rd June 2016