For close to a decade, Eddie Marsan has been quietly staking a claim as one of Britain’s best actors. It’s a shame then that he is rarely given top billing and often has to make the most of smaller side roles, as he is immensely watchable and can comfortably carry a film. In the case of Still Life he does exactly that, salvaging a script that reeks of forced sentimentality and raising it to genuine poignancy. Feeling like a film version of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, this ode to loneliness comes from Full Monty producer Uberto Pasolini.

Marsan plays John May, a London council worker who is charged with arranging the funerals of residents who have died alone and unloved, attempting to contact next of kin, and piecing together the lonely lives of the forgotten deceased. He goes about his life with an obsessive meticulousness, eating exactly the same meal every day and waiting for the green man at a deserted crossing before daring to step into the road. This high level of care carries over into his job too, his slow pace of work frustrating his bosses who decide to let him go following the completion of one final case.

Tonally, Still Life is an odd film. At times intimately sweet, it often shifts into far bleaker territory, despite never raising its pace above a low hum. Moving at a gracefully slow speed, the film’s empty mood perfectly captures the isolation of its main character and the lives he is trying to piece together. Sadly, all of this somehow never really amounts to anything worthwhile and the film constantly threatens to be better than it eventually turns out to be, ending on an oddly saccharine note that feels clumsily forced.

In the hands of another lead, Still Life could’ve fallen dreadfully flat, but Marsan proves his worth by raising the film with a touching, personal performance and allowing it to punch well above its weight. This achievement is key as he is present in every scene and while the rest of the cast all provide solid backup, the supporting characters float in and out of the narrative, the only constant being Marsan.

Despite being interesting, Still Life is difficult to truly enjoy. There are fleeting moments where it is genuinely moving, but on the whole it feels too cold to fully embrace. Marsan is fantastic, and is always worth watching, but a strong performance can’t stop the film’s mushy sentimentality from feeling far too contrived.