An impressive cinematic experiment, this film is worth seeing for its big concept and documentary touches, even if the narrative is frustratingly underdeveloped. We can actually see the passage of time, as the cast and crew shot this fly-on-the-wall drama over five years. So it's a shame there's so little going on to hold our interest.
The story takes place in rural Norfolk, where Karen (Henderson) is struggling to take care of her four young children (played by the four Kirk siblings, using their own names). Her husband Ian (Simm) is in prison, and taking the kids to visit him is a big outing. Things get easier when he's transferred to a lower security location and given weekend passes to visit his family. But as the years pass, the children grow up and Karen and Ian's relationship begins to shift. And for help, Karen befriends a local man who fills Ian's upcoming release with mixed emotion.
Winterbottom assembles this as an intriguing blending of the kitchen-sink drama (most notably portrayed through Michael Nyman's surging score) and a grainy, hand-held documentary. There is no shape of a plot to speak of, and few significant events along the way. Essentially, the film is merely examining these four children as they age over five years, which is rather astonishing as we've never seen it captured on film like this. Their scenes with Henderson and Simm are especially well-played, beautifully revealing the affection and tension between parents, children, spouses, brothers and sisters. Even though we never find out why Ian was imprisoned, Simm gives him a quiet realism that plays nicely opposite Henderson's superbly underplayed exhaustion.
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