I found this a hard, almost disturbing film to watch. It is intelligently written and exquisitely acted. To be honest I'm still not sure what to make of all of it.
The film is about an all too common suburban malaise that afflicts too many couples. The challenge to be seen to be successful - a good job, stay at home mum, detached house in the Kentish suburbs, two cars, two kids. They have it all but life is all about work and providing for his family for husband Mark (Dominic Cooper) and for wife Tara (Gemma Arterton) life has lost its purpose and she has lost her sense of self and is depressed. The problem is that Mark is unable to see this and offer any empathy or compassion. His sex drive results at least a once-a-day uncontested rape of his wife. Her inability to articulate clearly how she feels - or more properly is unable to feel any more, simply feeds into the cycle of mismatched expectations about what life is about and how it should be lived. There is minimal dialogue, the story is driven by facial expressions, tears and body language. The film slowly and painfully trundles towards a breakdown in the marriage until Tara finally makes her escape.
With extensive use of hand held cameras, it felt that perhaps 50% of the film featured a close up of Arterton's beautiful face. She spends a lot of time looking at her emotionless reflection. Her mother is unsympathetic and unable to offer any support other than to say that it was just a 'phase' and that everyone faces it at some point or another. Tara clearly feels that she has no opportunity for creative output or self-expression and tries to find solace in an art class but Mark is dismissive. Tara struggles to find a way out of the trap of the daily, meaningless grind - she has even lost her love for her children.
In an attempt to find herself, she escapes. Her new found freedom even produces the odd smile on Arterton's otherwise emotionless face. She hooks up with a Mark look-a-like which ends up in bed. She then chastises her new partner for lying about being married and a father - the very thing she has done to him. A bewildering double standard. The ending of the film is suggestive but ultimately leaves the story open. For me this was an unsatisfying conclusion.
The film cries out for blame to be apportioned but both Mark and Tara are so unable to analyse what is actually going on, it is difficult to blame one more than the other. I wonder if, in general, men who watch this film would see a different film to women who watch it? I don't know if this film has a feminist agenda driving it to present Tara as a victim. We never get to see Mark's daily context - perhaps he is numbingly bored at work and simply goes through the motions each day to provide for his family or possibly he works so extremely hard he has little capacity to engage in a fuller home life.
Overall, I found the narrative a painful thing to experience - I didn't want to engage with it. That in itself shows what good story-telling this film offers. Arterton's acting is mesmerising and shows the versatility that she possesses. I'm really not sure what score to give this film. It is an excellent film with Arterton giving an extremely strong performance - but I didn't enjoy it all and I certainly don't want to see it again. Perhaps the film's intent is to vaccinate suburbia in the hope of preventing an epidemic. It offers plenty of scope for fruitful reflection and perhaps offers couples a jolt back to reality should their relationship be heading in the direction of Mark and Tara's. I'll give it a 7/10.