Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville play a middle-aged couple in Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s film, Ordinary Love. Their faces have the lines of past grief — the loss of their daughter — and their lives have settled into unvarying routine, like the daily walk up to a particular tree.
Joan (Manville) discovers a lump in her breast and their worst fears are confirmed when it turns out to be cancerous. The film then goes into the processes that follow after the diagnosis — the surgeries, the enervating rounds of chemotherapy, the loss of hair and the pain. Tom (Neeson) takes care of her with a stoic sense of duty — the scene in which he cuts her hair is terribly moving.
If at all the minimalistic film that focuses on the couple, moves away for a bit, it is for brief interactions with other patients and Joan’s unexpected friendship with her daughter’s schoolteacher Peter (David Wilmot), who is terminally ill, and unlike her devoted husband, understands exactly what she is going through.
The realism and lack of melodrama in the film is admirable, but also makes for a dull watch. Both the actors are brilliant, and have an ease in their togetherness that comes from years of marriage, shared joys and sorrows, and, as the title says, an ordinary love. They never once strike a false note, and Manville’s shedding of vanity is brave — the camera unflinchingly looks at her body, her wrinkles, her bald head and her anguished eyes.
Perhaps because of the writer Owen McCafferty’s theatre background, and the restrained style of shooting, there is a stagey aspect to the film; at the same time, the dialogue has a mundane, everyday quality. None of that phony lyricism or pop philosophy that tend to get attached to films about illness and suffering. There is quiet poignancy to the film that gives it a low-key appeal — would work better as a home viewing experience rather than a trip to the multiplex.