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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Directed by Klaus Härö, My Sailor, My Love, sets out in an apparently predictable direction before veering down a rockier, less familiar path. It doesn’t exactly subvert expectations, but the sharp writing and subtle acting make for a more satisfying experience. Howard, played with hulking charisma by James Cosmo, seeks to scare away the latest tenant in his old home, his new housekeeper, Annie (Bríd Brennan). Told his daughter has paid her €400, he offers her €500 to “never darken my door again”. You would be right if you guessed the two eventually reach a friendlier understanding. It would not, however, be right to describe My Sailor, My Love as any sort of soapy romance. Jimmy Karlsson and Kirsi Vikman’s screenplay fleshes out a cluster of circling characters with great incisiveness.
Catherine Walker, a strong presence in Irish film and theatre over the past decade, does fascinating work as Howard’s daughter, Grace. An overworked nurse, struggling to make sense of her life in therapy, she gets support from neither hostile dad nor an apparently uninteresting husband. In a less thoughtful piece Grace would be the soulless representative of a newer, harsher nation – and, sure enough, her hostility when Howard and Annie become close is faintly shocking. She writes a letter that, in its warnings about the old man’s selfishness, says as much about her insecurities as about any of her father’s defects. Late in the action, however, Walker sheds emotional layers to reveal the damage within. Nobody here is demonised.
The film is most notable for the interplay between the two senior actors. Rarely offered the opportunity of a lead role, Cosmo resists the temptation to make a lovable old rogue of Howard as he and Annie stumble into companionship. There is a hooded quality to his performance that allows all kinds of suspicions to fester. Brennan showcases her capacity to say everything while not saying very much. The two discover secret energies in their slow emotional dance around testily revealed unhappy pasts. My Sailor, My Love will play to any nation where humans struggle to make themselves understood. After all, the sailor belongs only to the sea.