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Heartlands Review

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Gentle Colin is distraught when his wife Sandra leaves him for a local copper, Jeff. Plucking up all his courage, Colin revs up his moped, abandons his lonely corner shop and heads after them to Blackpool, where Jeff is competing in the Darts League Final.

★★★★★

Heartlands arrives with a huge pedigree behind it - the director of East Is East, the co-writer of Shane Meadows' films, the executive producers of Trainspotting, Four Weddings And A Funeral and 24 Hour Party People, and a bit of financial backing from Miramax. And yet it falls some way short of all expectations.

Some will call it sweet and uplifting; others will say it's soft and predictable. If, by the end, it has managed to wrestle some warmth and affection from its gloomy depiction of England - smoke-filled pubs, grey motorways, down-trodden lives, Blackpool's Golden Mile turned into a drunk's theme park - then it has done so at a price.

There's more than a whiff of condescension about the film's treatment of the quaint quirks and limited aspirations of the regional working class. It's one thing to make a movie about people whose greatest dream is a weekend in Blackpool and the chance to meet Eric Bristow. It's another to laugh at them for those very reasons.

In the lead role, Michael Sheen rises above such criticism. With clown-like curly hair and a sad-sack demeanour, Colin's one of life's losers. It's only when he hits the road on his moped - hardly Easy Rider - that he realises people who meet him for the first time, who don't know him as a cuckolded figure of fun, actually think he's quite a cool guy.

It's greatly to Sheen's credit that he never lets the character slip into Mike Leigh-esque caricature, but nevertheless manages to get us rooting for him, on both his internal and external journeys.

Sheen aside, the real star is Alwin Kuchler's cinematography. Best known for his work with Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar), Kuchler finds bursts of colour and signs of life in the drabbest locations. Keep an eye out for the aerial shot of the camping ground and the delightful aside as Colin skips over the shadows of a wind turbine's rotating blades.

With a pace to match Colin's moped, Heartlands is an episodic tale whose life lessons are a little too obvious. Once it gets out on the road, however, it picks up, but its grim view of working class England doesn't have East Is East's ensemble sparkle, despite Sheen's appealing star turn.