French philosopher Michel Foucault argued all the social institutions we build — from schools to nurseries, housing to hospitals — are a bit like prisons. That’s certainly the case for the job centre Kate (Ruth Wilson) works in, an entrapping and morose place which makes Wernham-Hogg look like Shangri-La. When ex-con Blond (Tom Burke) strolls in to find a new start, they have something in common.
Set in the suitably sad-looking seaside town of Ramsgate in Kent, Wootliff captures the essence of claustrophobic English coastal life. Though both from upper-middle class backgrounds, Burke and Wilson’s performances as downtrodden and disillusioned 30s Brits are charming and convincing enough for any seeming authenticity not to matter much. True Things is a solid portrait of how a new relationship can let us escape reality better than any fiction. For Kate, whose dream of oral sex on the beach is literally the opening shot, that’s exactly what she needs. Despite a sourpuss colleague warning her Blond is taking her for a ride in more ways than one, Kate replies she’s being an authoritarian.
They’re both not wrong. Kate and Blond’s whirlwind romance becomes more complicated than the initial euphoria suggests (don’t they always?), leaving Kate with some soul-searching to do.
If Maggie Gyllenhaal with The Lost Daughter did a bit too little with a lot, Harry Wootliff with True Things does a lot with not much to work from. Its intimate focus on the central pair excuses the need for any grander plot, a bold choice vindicated by exacting performances by Burke and Wilson.
Because, to the couple, nothing else really matters. That’s also the case for True Things, a laser-focused but all too fleeting look at the joy of a new partnership. Its loftier ideas about the captivity of modern capitalism and the archaic expectations society still has of unmarried women once they hit 30 are interestingly posed but never quite delivered on. Maybe it’s too much to expect from a 100-minute film, but then again Brazil’s 7 Prisioneiros analysed modern slavery and social dynamics in less than 90.
True Things’ initial promise engages, but its cautiousness in the latter stages puts a stop to the excitement just as it gets going.