New Horizons and Stormy Moods in My Sailor, My Love

Director: Klaus Härö Starring: James Cosmo, Bríd Brennan, Catherine Walker, Nora-Jane Noone Running Time: 100 minutes

There is a whole sub-genre of cinema about elderly romances, especially ones where a grumpy old man is brought back out of his shell by the power of love. Our own Brendan Gleeson has been in a few, and it seems at first in My Sailor, My Love, that compatriot James Cosmo is going to join him. Cosmo plays a retired sea captain in Achill, isolated and irritable, who starts to lighten up again in the company of his new housekeeper, hired by his dutiful daughter. It’s charming, harmless stuff, like auld Captain Howard himself telling tall tales to kids down the pub.

The romance that develops between Howard and Bríd Brennan Annie seems like light-hearted stuff, and My Sailor, My Love works well enough on that level. Where it kicks up a gear is in its consideration of more complex, awkward and uglier emotions. Lovable grumpy old men have a past of course, reluctant though they are to talk about them, and Klaus Härö’s film is an emotionally well-rounded work, holding Howard up to scrutiny and considering with care the feelings of those around  him.

Achill looks gorgeous as ever through Härö’s camera, suitably idyllic when Howard is charming Annie and driving around her granddaughters. But he’s more interested in tight, airless spaces, like Howard’s home, which looks like it hasn’t been cleaned once in the time between his wife’s death and Annie being hired by his daughter Grace (Catherine Walker). Grace’s home holds a different hostility, a sterile, unlived-in space that hosts exhausting conversations between her and her husband – we see early on how Grace is overworked and underappreciated. The film takes its time slowly unravelling her complicated relationship with her dad, turning her into an antagonistic figure as she struggles to accept his and Annie’s coupling.

Walker does a great job in walking that fine line, playing Grace’s frustration, but Cosmo and Brennan will deservedly get the bulk of the plaudits, flipping between an easy chemistry and a halted, knottier unease. Annie is won over by the captain but she’s been mistreated before, and is too strong and self-actualised not to notice the way Howard glosses over his daughter’s pain, rejecting what’s inconvenient to him – she’s uncertain, unnerved. When Annie’s own daughter tells her to put her own happiness first, there’s a realism and compassion that we don’t normally get in these kinds of stories, which aim to be more mawkish and straightforward.

Cosmo flips brilliantly between life of the party and stunted, silent, emotionally avoidant Irish man, reluctant to reckon with his life before Annie, the full picture of his previous marriage and his current dynamic with Grace. His daughter feels, appropriately, all at sea, with Annie in the middle trying to make sense of it. A well-constructed drama springs from an already pleasing enough romance. My Sailor, My Love charts choppy waters, and takes us somewhere all the better for it.

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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