Well, here’s one for the ancients trapped in old people’s homes with everyone they hated at primary school. Old Jack – despite the thing being a tad too close to home and wayyyyyyyy too familiar – rather enjoyed How About You.
It’s the tale of several miserable old gits – scraped from the very top of British acting talent – being horrible in a care home. The place is owned by the spikily Irish Orla Brady (playing Kate Harris, cheerlessly regretting taking on the home in a fit of decency). It is occasionally supported by the youthful and modern Hayley Atwell (playing Ellie Harris, Kate’s sister) who gifts last wishes to the friendlier of the inmates and – when abandoned by Kate – gives the others the wake-up call they need to squeeze the last juice from life’s lemon.
Atwell’s Ellie is light and lovely: not shy of a touch of pot, skidding past her sister’s rules and getting to know the glorious Joan O’Hara in her final performance. As Ellie’s own life is pulled apart, she gives Joan her last, simple wish and learns enough to change the world.
Atwell easily owns the film. And she is parrying with a wall of clichés and a deeply unfair wall of stage thesps: Vanessa Redgrave plays the arrogant nearly-star, Joss Ackland the socially repellant drunk judge, Brenda Fricker and Imelda Staunton the suspiciously young, hustling and bustling sisters with a shared pain. Old Jack looks down the hall some nights and dreams of this kind of quality in the other rooms. Atwell must have gulped when she saw the cast list.
They are all, needless to say, brilliant. Rage and pathos comes off them like a Christmas kiss. And you’ll be yearning for one if you let the plot get to you. Surprises aren’t going to. The old folk are mean, they get yelled at, club together like Carry on Sergeant had taught them the template for this kind of film, and end up being sweet and cooperative with a whiff of life lessons well-learnt.
Don’t stop living, crumblies. Got that?!
So – it’s Christmassy. If you feel like controlled schmaltz, comedy old folk and a splendidly Irish Hayley Atwell, go for it. The cast’s charm will get you through this and all your remaining winters.