Together (2021) ☆☆☆(3/4): Stuck together during the ongoing pandemic

Stephen Daldry’s BBC TV movie “Together” simply observes an ordinary couple who happens to be stuck together during the lockdown period caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Although it often feels theatrical as its two main characters frequently break the fourth wall for speaking directly to us, the movie is supported fairy well by the good performances from its two talented lead performers, and we come to observe their characters’ dynamic relationship development with more emotional involvement.

The story begins on the first day of the lockdown in UK in 2020. Right from when they enter the screen, it is pretty apparent to us that the couple, played by James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan, is having relationship problems, and both of them willingly tell us how much they are different from each other – and how much they cannot stand each other. Although they have been together for several years while also having a young son between them, it seems that they could be separated from each other without any hesitation if the lockdown were not imposed on them and many others out there.

As they keep talking to each other or us, we get to know more about a number of differences between them, which are clearly the source of their frequent personal clashes. While he is a businessman who has a rather conservative viewpoint despite having a working-class background, she is your average left-wing liberal who has worked in some charity organization, and it is rather amusing to see how they push and pull each other over several social and political issues.

To both of them (and many people in UK), it looks like the lockdown will be soon over, and he has a silly episode of his to tell. For his young son who incidentally has some signs of autism, he tried to buy aubergines at a local supermarket, but he could not buy aubergines just because the aubergines sent to the supermarket happened to be handled by an infected person. As the camera simply focuses on him for a while, McAvoy, who has been one of the most interesting British actors since his breakout supporting turn in “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (2005), steadily holds our attention as his character recounts more of his funny episode, and we are reminded more of how much our world was thrown into sheer panic as COVID-19 virus was swiftly spread around the world during that time.

As the lockdown is continued week by week, the couple certainly becomes more concerned than before, and she is particularly worried about her aging mother, who had been taken care of by a hired caregiver at her home but then eventually moved to a facility for old people mainly thanks to the caregiver’s persuasion. When her mother is subsequently taken to a local hospital due to COVID-19, she naturally comes to fear for the worst, and she finds herself more emotionally depending on her partner. As a matter of fact, they have become friendlier to each other as being stuck together with their son during last several weeks, and it seems that they may continue to live together even after the end of the lockdown.

However, the frustration and exasperation from the lockdown as well as the ongoing pandemic keep getting accumulated between them. While he comes to lose his computer business, she becomes devastated when there comes a time when she has to say goodbye to her mother, and we later get an intense monologue scene where she lets out her churning feelings in front of the camera. The screenplay by Dennis Kelly is rather blunt and heavy-handed during this scene, but this scene still works because Sharon Horgan, an Irish actress who has been mainly known for TV comedy series “Pulling” and “Catastrophe”, skillfully handles the whole gamut of her character’s emotions with care and empathy.

Around the narrative point where everything seems to be getting a bit better after vaccines finally come, the couple begins to think more about whether they can actually continue their relationship, but, not so surprisingly, there come a series of emotionally hurtful moments when they reveal several issues they have been hiding from each other, respectively. Truth indeed hurts, and both of them become quite morose, confused, and depressed while struggling to decide what to do with their relationship.

The movie, which was shot during only 10 days while the cast and crew members followed COVID-19 protocols as required, was set mostly inside one single setting, but it does not feel that stuffy while never losing the sense of confinement around its main characters. As the camera is often placed close to them, we come to feel more like another figure in the house, and, mainly thanks to the charismatic presence of its two lead performers, we do not mind listening to them even when they talk directly to us.

While it is basically a modest two-hander, “Together” is worthwhile to watch due to the good chemistry between McAvoy and Horgan on the screen. Considering that the COVID-19 pandemic is still an ongoing issue, I wonder whether the movie can have more perspective and insight if it is made several years later at least, but it will probably be remembered as one of notable films from the COVID-19 era, and I hope we will soon see the day when it will mildly remind us of how much many of us struggled during the pandemic.

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