out of Five
Running time: 90
Damien O’Donnell’s follow-up to East Is East is a sweet, laid-back tale with a lovely performance by Michael Sheen at its centre.
With a screenplay by Paul Fraser (co-writer of Shane Meadows’ films), there’s a certain amount of expectation attached to Heartlands, the second film by East Is East director Damien O’Donnell.
Certainly, the O’Donnell / Fraser combo was enough to lure indie giants Miramax into stumping up some cash. The result, however, is unlikely to score an East Is East-sized hit, as it’s a sweet, small-scale road movie that deliberately avoids hitting the expected buttons.
Hot Pursuit On A Moped
Michael Sheen plays Colin, a mild-mannered local man in an unnamed Midlands town. He runs the local newsagent and lives for his local darts team – his greatest dream is to meet his hero Eric Bristow.
So, when Colin discovers his wife is having an affair with the captain of the team (policeman Jim Carter), he loses both his marriage and his place in the squad, just as they all head off to Blackpool for the regional finals. However, Colin decides he’s going to fight for his wife, so, perhaps unwisely, he leaves the newsagent in the charge of some local kids and hits the road on his moped in, er…”hot” pursuit.
Naturally, on the road, Colin meets several different characters, including Mark Addy’s raucous ginger publican, Celia Imrie’s rather lovely girl guide leader and a mother (Ruth Jones) and her daughter, who are fleeing the mother’s liaison with a truck driver.
The characters in the film are beautifully-drawn, although that almost backfires, because you end up wanting Colin to spend more time with them, particularly the girl guide leader, but also Mark Strong’s character.
Not As Much Of A Loser As We Thought…
Michael Sheen is superb as Colin, with his constant hangdog expression and his shaggy mop of curly hair. Initially he seems to be one of life’s losers, but as the film progresses, both the audience’s and Colin’s perception of himself gradually changes.
The film looks wonderful, courtesy of some dazzlingly colourful cinematography by Alwin Kuchler, who also shot Morvern Callar – watch for the scene where Colin’s moped receives an unexpected make-over. There are also some great little throwaway scenes, such as Colin ‘skipping’ the shadows of a windmill’s blades as they turn.
If the film has a flaw, it’s only the nagging feeling that it could have had more of an impact – the ending is satisfying, but it’s not quite the crowd-pleasing feelgood-fest you feel it deserves. You’ll smile, rather than cheer…
To sum up, Heartlands is an enjoyably sweet film, with a winning central performance from Sheen. Definitely worth seeing.