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Review: Together – “An exceptional time capsule of our not-so-distant past”

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TOGETHER – James McAvoy (HE) and Sharon Horgan (SHE)
Arty Films Ltd. for BBC Film and BBC TWO
Photographer: Peter Mountain / © Arty Films Ltd. 2021

Am I friends with James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan now?  I found myself asking this question quite a few times while watching the new film from Academy Award nominated director Stephen Daldry, known for Billy Elliot, The Hours and The Reader.  But he is also known for his work in theatre both in London’s West End and on Broadway, and this makes itself exceedingly evident in Together, a two person production where McAvoy and Horgan often speak directly to the audience.  The film doesn’t just break the fourth wall, it tears it down completely.  It’s a unique perspective that makes you feel like you’re a part of the action, like you’re sitting in the kitchen of the two characters as they tell stories from their lives and discuss all matter of issues, especially surrounding the current COVID lockdown.  

Yes, this is a ‘lockdown’ film, but don’t worry, besides from one short showing of a virtual Christmas choir, this film stays away from Zoom chats and technological connection.  In fact, this film concentrates instead on two people who have a lack of connection, forced to evaluate their relationship status while stuck at home.  McAvoy and Horgan star simply as ‘He’ and ‘She’ while their son, Artie (Samuel Logan) largely stays silent, lurking in the background.  The film starts during the first UK lockdown and time passing is noted by the number of COVID deaths (and then more hopefully on the number vaccinated).  When forced to stay home, it’s clear the couple isn’t starting from a pleasant place.  “When I look at you, I get the same feeling I do when I think of my dead Dad’s cancer,” She says with disgust.  The two are clearly at odds, seemingly different people, even at opposing ends of the political spectrum. 

Over the film’s 90 minute run time it becomes clear that perhaps these two have more in common than they thought.  They argue about a variety of topics, and recount stories from their relationship’s history including one amusing anecdote about foraging for mushrooms.  But even as they claim to hate each other, they know everything about each other, their idiosyncrasies and quirks.  As COVID takes its toll on this family, as it has so many others, perspectives change and their future together is in question as things start to return back to ‘normal.’

Fuelled by impeccable and emotional turns from both McAvoy and Horgan, Together is an emotional roller coaster.  Obviously, the realities of COVID and lockdown are all still present, and for some this material may be too raw, especially for those that have lost loved ones in long-term care facilities.  While the film does concentrate on McAvoy and Horgan, they are existing within the real world together with all of us, never more evident than with their talk directed at the camera, and writer Dennis Kelly is not afraid to take on some of the more controversial aspects of COVID politics.  The characters speak directly about issues that arose within the UK, but there are parallels that will resonate no matter where you reside.  The filmmakers are unapologetic on their criticism of leadership and their actions, and as time continues to track the increasing number of deaths from COVID, their arguments are especially impactful.

Daldry directs Together in a way that feels appropriately claustrophobic.  But I feel for the actors, who have several lengthy scenes and uncut monologues.  It’s an Aaron Sorkin level of dialogue shared only between the two stars.  If anyone was going to pull it off however it was this duo.  Never before have I found a discussion about growing asparagus particularly compelling, but it felt like McAvoy was telling it only to me and it therefore demanded attention.  Similarly, Horgan has a particularly fascinating soliloquy defining the word ‘exponential’ done entirely into the camera with considerable effect.  These moments bring the actors and audience together into the story and create a feeling of intimacy that spans from start to finish.  

Years from now, when we are hopefully safely outside of the danger of this virus, when the pandemic is a time we look back on from a distance, I feel Together will be performed as stage play to chronicle these times.  If McAvoy and Horgan are involved especially, I’m buying a ticket.  But, if you are a fan of theatre adaptations and chamber pieces, as I am, you’ll find a lot to like about this film.  It’s an exceptional time capsule of our not-so-distant past that truly redefines the meaning and importance of the word, together.  

Together aired in June on BBC Two and now has a North American theatrical release starting August 27th.

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