Nowhere Special: James Norton’s heartbreaking new film is a model of beautiful restraint

·2-min read
 (Handout)
(Handout)

Do you care that James Norton (this movie’s leading man) is tipped to play the next James Bond? I mention this only because Norton’s high profile will surely help Nowhere Special at the box office, but could also lead to disappointment. The film’s hero, John, a Belfast window cleaner and single dad, has terminal brain cancer and is desperate to find loving adoptive parents for his three-year-old son, Michael. John isn’t trying to save the world. He’s trying to save a world. Adrenaline junkies may ask, where’s the drama in that?

Norton and his voluminous hair wowed in War and Peace. Yet ever since he’s swerved posh-pretty-boy roles and despite the odd miss-fire (he spawned yawns in Little Women) he’s mostly found oblique ways to stun, excelling as a psychotic killer (Happy Valley), a fledgling gangster (McMafia) and a flighty gay artist (Life in Squares). He confounds us again here.

John wears tracksuits and is covered in tattoos. Whether throwing eggs at windows, hanging out with llamas, lambasting social workers or explaining why there’s no one in his life except Michael, he’s heart-hurtingly human.

Norton (born in London, raised in Yorkshire) nails the brogue. Recently, the cast of Wild Mountain Thyme took a different approach, possibly under the impression that mutilating an Irish accent is OK because AWN (Americans won’t notice). That may actually be true, but how nice that Norton did his homework anyway.

A Ballymena newcomer plays Michael. Four years old when the film was shot, Daniel Lamont adds so much to the mix. Michael sits on his dad’s lap during a series of excruciating visits to prospective families, and looks anything but vacant as the conversations take place. What did director Uberto Pasolini say to Lamont? “While listening to the words spoken by the man playing your dad, I need you to wear a fierce and almost comically incredulous expression, but also convey that Michael is spell-bound by love, fear and a desire to please.” Possibly.

Maybe Lamont is preternaturally intelligent. Maybe his astoundingly complex facial expressions were a happy accident. Either way, the effect is astounding. A handful of films offer insight into how humans, in that nebulous, yolk-y state between toddler-hood and childhood, make sense of death. Réné Clément’s Forbidden Games; Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies; Jacques Doillon’s Ponette - Nowhere Special belongs in that breathtaking league.

Pasolini’s one crime against cinema is that, towards the end, he allows the music to get maudlin (we definitely enter “Our Tune” territory). In every other way, the 64 year old Italian is a model of restraint.

By their nature, modest stories are easily overlooked. Give Pasolini’s “little” film a chance, though, and the specialness of this project will blow you away.

In cinemas. 96mins, 12A

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