True Things review – seductively dangerous liaisons in Ramsgate | Drama films


After her wonderfully engrossing feature debut, Only You, writer-director Harry Wootliff turns to a rather more toxic relationship, balancing elements of romantic melodrama and psychological thriller in a film powered by modern gothic passions. Loosely adapted from Deborah Kay Davies’s book True Things About Me, it’s a disturbingly seductive (and often unexpectedly funny) portrayal of manipulation and deceit that gets right under the skin of its protagonist, brilliantly played by Ruth Wilson, who walks a tightrope between enchantment and endangerment. With great physical poise and precision, Wilson (who optioned and developed the source book) engages the audience on a visceral level, her deceptively low-key performance taking us deep inside her character’s dreams, desires and insecurities.

Wilson plays Kate, a somewhat tremulous thirtysomething daydreamer whose personal life has stalled and who is just about holding down a humdrum job at a benefits office in Ramsgate. When a charismatic claimant (Tom Burke) cockily asks what she’s doing for lunch, Kate flirtatiously throws caution to the wind and soon finds herself in an unexpectedly erotic car-park encounter that is as thrilling as it is risky. Like Kate, we know little or nothing about her mesmerising new lover, whom she names Blond, but whose particulars (his history, his status, even his whereabouts) remain enigmatically vague. What we do know is that Kate becomes instantly addicted to his pointedly unpredictable attentions, craving his calls and his company, infatuated with his presence – all the more so in his frustratingly frequent absence.

Kate’s friends and family are understandably suspicious, none more so than Alison (Hayley Squires), who has been trying to fix Kate up with a suitable partner with whom to settle down. For Alison, this interloper is just another bad decision – a chaotic presence that has overtaken the needy Kate’s life, clouding her senses and her judgment. “So you’re going to rescue him are you?” asks Alison when Kate insists that their dependence is mutual, even when Blond effectively makes off with her car. Yet whenever he reappears, the spark is rekindled, keeping alive the possibility that a better, more exciting life awaits Kate, just beyond her reach.

Wootliff has described True Things as “a cautionary tale of a destructive sexual relationship that is both complex and ordinary”, adding that this relationship seems “so familiar” as to be “almost a rite of passage”. While Wootliff may be referring specifically to “a woman’s sense of self” as explored or defined through relationships, the film’s appealcrosses gender boundaries. Anyone who has ever defined themselves through the eyes of others, or sought self-worth in unworthy romance, will recognise both the agony and ecstasy of Kate’s predicament. That tension burns at the heart of True Things, making Kate both a passive observer of and active agent in circumstances beyond her control. Crucially, no matter how much her passion devours her, it also drives her – albeit to distraction.

Having brilliantly embodied the suavely duplicitous Anthony in Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Burke here seems to channel the spirit of Oliver Reed, investing his character with a blend of animal magnetism and fear of intimacy that feeds hungrily upon Kate’s own conflicted responses. When he tells her that she’s “lovely”, there’s something of the fairytale wolf about his words, as if he were preparing to eat her. Yet, like Red Riding Hood, Kate is more resourceful than she seems.

In Only You, Josh O’Connor and Laia Costa danced to the anguished strains of Elvis Costello’s I Want You in a scene that showcased Wootliff’s ability to tell a story through movement and music. Dance plays a crucial role in True Things too, as PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me soundtracks a defining scene of character-driven choreography in which Wootliff and Wilson work in perfect harmony with cinematographer Ashley Connor, whose close-up expressionist images have a tactile, sensuous quality. Plaudits, too, to composer Alex Baranowski, whose plucked, processed sounds create a sonic backdrop that perfectly captures Kate’s anxiously evolving spirit, simultaneously evoking impending catastrophe and ecstatic escape.

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