Ordinary Love is a film about exactly that: the love of two very ordinary people and how they face the world together – and alone. They are not special, and what they have to face is not all that special either, but an experience that lots of people have to undergo.
It is hard to write about this film without spoilers but suffice it to say that Joan (Lesley Manville) has to face a major health issue, and the film follows the couple from the beginning (their little routines, their gentle quibbling and teasing) to discovery and diagnosis and treatment. Along the way, we find out that they have had another tragedy in their lives too. The film revolves round these two main characters: all other characters are unimportant. Liam Neeson as the husband Tom is a big shambling, mumbling bear; he often looks awkward and ill-at-ease with others, but his quiet devotion to his wife is almost tangible, even when they quarrel. These two are totally at ease with each other; they enjoy each other; they know each other so well and that knowledge breeds contentment and love, just ordinary but nevertheless solid love.
Lesley Manville’s portrayal of Joan is extraordinary: an illuminating insight into the fears and hopes of a woman fighting a life-threatening (and life-changing) disease. We watch her through all the tests and operations and treatments; the camera often zooms in close to see her expression. No holds are barred – we see her looking her worst as well as her best. Much of the time, she holds herself in, endures it, puts on a brave face with only the twitch of the mouth to show what she is going through. It is mainly her pain that we watch, although we see, too, the dread that Tom feels when he faces the fact that he could possibly lose her. The illness tests their relationship and Joan realises that there are some things she must face alone, but, ultimately, their love survives. They put up the Christmas decorations again, quibble over the Brussels sprouts: there is a feeling that, whatever happens, they will be all right after all.
The performances of Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville are wonderful: the tenderness and familiarity of their relationship is totally convincing. However, it is not a film for the faint-hearted or weak-stomached. Although not laboured, the medical scenes are graphic enough to show just how hard Joan's journey is. Mostly though, this is a film about ordinary love, its strength and its power to heal.