Small town waitress Lou (Emilia Clarke) is hired as a carer/companion to wealthy Will (Sam Claflin), who is paralysed after an accident. Initially shut out by Will, Lou begins to soften him – but can she give him the desire to live?
Based on Jojo Moyes' novel, this homegrown drama aims squarely at the tragic-romance market lead by the likes of The Fault In Our Stars. British attempts such as Now Is Good haven't been as successful as their American counterparts, and Me Before You could have a similar prognosis.
Sam Claflin works well with the physical demands of the role.
The set up is the stuff of many a classic (and non-classic) romance: a poor but cheerful young girl meets a rich, gruff gentleman and begins working for him, soldiering on despite her reservations and his vague hostility. When her bright, kind nature begins to wear him down, she gets to go to the ball and consider a life of luxury with a man who's been nursing a broken heart. The Sound Of Music fans will be no strangers to this concept.
What makes Me Before You different, and quite interesting in principle, is that Will is physically broken as well as emotionally: he's severely paralysed, unable to care for himself and resents having to rely on his parents (Janet McTeer and Charles Dance) and the staff they hire. On a basic level, it's engaging watching Lou enter this new world for which she is entirely unprepared, and indulgent audiences will be rooting for Lou to crack Will's tough exterior.
Claflin is good as Will, working well with the physical demands of the role and bringing a gentle, jocular flirtatiousness to his character as he develops his relationship with Lou. Jenna Coleman is also effective in a small role as Lou's sister. Unfortunately Lou is the weakest link: rather than a relatable protagonist she's a caricatured Bridget Jones pretender whose clumsy pratfalling sits oddly with the story's otherwise mawkish tone. There's also a problem with the story's ending, which, while moving, has caused controversy with disability rights campaigners.
This weepie eventually packs an emotional punch but it's an uneven mix of melodrama and attempted broad comedy.