True Things

Sep 15, 2022
By Greg Hyde

Web Exclusive


Tom Burke recently gave a strong performance as the manipulative, controlling partner of an impressionable, susceptible protagonist in Joanna Hogg’s excellent The Souvenir. His performance in British director Harry Wootliff’s unsettling new drama, True Things, sees him continue to play a character of this type. Typecasting this may be, but if it is, it is difficult to complain about, because he delivers a very strong performance all the same.

In True Things, Burke plays a cocksure, slightly impertinent man in his early-to-mid-30s with dirty blond hair known simply as “Blond” who, following a four-month prison term, turns up at a welfare office in the windswept coastal town of Ramsgate, south-east England that is staffed by (among others) the film’s protagonist, Kate (Ruth Wilson). Kate is maladjusted to adult life, possibly somewhat neurodivergent, regularly oversleeping, and turning up late to her job so often that she is on the verge of losing it. She barely has any food in her house. She tells others about how she would like to go away somewhere, but when questioned as to where, she is not able to go into specifics, merely that she wants to go “somewhere different.”

When Blond turns up at Kate’s workstation with the intention of claiming welfare, she is intrigued by him and excited by his devil-may-care attitude. The pair begin dating, and initially it seems as though all may be going well. However, what starts off as the odd instance of Blond leaving Kate without saying goodbye or him borrowing items of hers without asking permission soon degenerates into a pattern of negging, gaslighting, and emotional abuse.

Wilson and Burke both turn in solid performances here, Wilson managing to prevent Kate’s lackadaisical attitude from diminishing the amount of sympathy the viewer is able to feel for the character, Burke imbuing a fundamentally unattractive character with enough charisma to make Kate’s attraction to him understandable. Credit should also go to Elizabeth Rider, who does some good work as Kate’s interfering mother, as well as Frank McCusker, who plays her considerably more likable father. Wootliff does a generally good job behind the camera, although the daydreamy, sensual atmosphere she injects into the film’s opening sex scene makes it feel slightly hackneyed. Scenes depicting Kate’s psychological disorientation could also have been handled with more directorial subtlety.

It should be stated that True Things has been adapted from Deborah Kay Davies’ 2010 novel, True Things About Me, in which Blond’s abuse is physical rather than psychological, so in terms of its recreation of Davies’ writing, it is not completely faithful. However, a fully accurate cinematic retelling of the novel sounds like it would have been a very distressing experience for the viewer, so it is perhaps through an act of mercy on Wootliff and co-screenwriter Molly Davies’ part that this is the case. Overall, True Things is a highly compelling and watchable psychological drama. The strong screenplay serves as a good foundation for Wootliff to elicit affecting performances from Wilson, Burke, Rider, McCusker, et al. She manages to maintain a subtly disturbing atmosphere for the majority of the film, and Burke’s talent for playing charismatic abusers continues to shine through.

Author rating: 7.5/10

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