This is a story about a Council employee, John May (Eddie Marsan), who works in South London in a unit called 'client Services.' His place of employment is as insensitive as it is bureaucratic.
He is unmarried and is devoted totally to his job. In his work, he has the unenviable task of tracing the next of kin of the unclaimed dead. In a morbid way, John likes his job very much, and finds it rewarding personally. However, its rewards are not anchored in any way to the warmth of personal contact established with other people.
John believes firmly that everyone who belongs to a file that is placed in his hands deserves to be treated in a dignified fashion. He takes careful responsibility for organising the funerals of the people in his files, even to the extent of writing their eulogies, and choosing the music for their funerals.
If he finds no contact person for them, he reluctantly scatters their ashes, and adds the file to the others in the pile of files that he stores in his office. At home, he adds their pictures to his photograph-album. He is usually the only person at the funerals he arranges, and the words of praise said by celebrants at the services are those he has scripted for them to use.
John May's life has been this way for 22 years. He is obsessive, restricted, lonely, and isolated. He learns one day that his department is being down-sized in the drive for efficiency. He is told to his amazement that he is being retrenched, and is advised to seek a 'job where people are alive for a change.' He is permitted to finish one last case, and spends his final days of employment on the death of his elderly, alcoholic neighbour, Billy Stoke.
This last case pushes him unexpectedly into contact with Kelly (Joanne Froggatt), who is Stoke's abandoned, and estranged daughter. Both John and Kelly are lonely people and they are drawn to each other by their circumstances.
The performances of Marsan and Froggatt are pitch-perfect. They both capture the intricacies of a relationship that promises possibilities, as yet unfulfilled. Eddie Marsan gives an extraordinary performance. He instils his every gesture with the look of passive understanding and resigned acceptance.
This is quality cinema, that delivers a film that is beautifully measured, and acted.
- Peter Sheehan, ACOFB
Eddie Marsan, and Joanne Froggatt. Directed by Uberto Pasolini. Rated M (Coarse language and themes). 92 min.