Harry Wootliff is the talented director who made the excellent, Glasgow-set Only You a few years ago. Ruth Wilson is a reliably fine actor; Tom Burke was a revelation in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir. On paper, therefore, True Things –their account of a toxic relationship in the less glamorous bits of Kent – has everything going for it. I’m still scratching my head over what went wrong with this one.
True Things is not a bad film, exactly. The actors play it like they mean it, while the drama itself carries a natural dry charge. But it’s unambitious, sometimes clunky and doesn’t wrong-foot us once. This sets about its slice-of-life tale with a very blunt knife.
Wilson plays Kate, a needy thirtysomething in Ramsgate, clinging to pretty much everyone and everything that she meets except her dismal job down at the benefits office. She’s on her third warning when in walks Blond (the film provides no other name), who’s just served a four-month stretch inside and jokingly asks that she join him for lunch. Blond is the kind of swaggering Jack the lad who seems precious-tooled to appeal to any fragile lost soul who fears life is passing them by. He might be Kate’s salvation. Then again he might not.
Adapted from Deborah Kay Davies’s novel True Things About Me, the film certainly knows its way around the intricacies of bad relationships, to the point where it provides viewers with a kind of step-by-step roadmap through all the tripwires and snares. Blond, sad to say, is your common or garden love rat, turning on the charm to win Kate over before turning cold and dismissive each time she clambers to claim him. So perhaps it’s unfair to complain that the film lacks surprises. Everyone knows the various steps to this dance. The wronged party, on some level, probably knows them best of all.
Moving from warmth to coldness and back again, True Things plays out like an extended Mumsnet thread. Blond’s there for her, then he’s not. He borrows her car and then won’t return it for a week. But if Wootliff never quite gets under the skin of the story, she by and large keeps it fluid, swinging a hand-held camera with abandon to capture her heroine’s giddying state of flux. Kate is drunk on good sex and the prospect of escape. She’s reached the point in her life where any escape is a good one, and even the dodgiest getaway vehicle looks like a winged chariot.