Sometimes Always Never

Sometimes Always Never
Sometimes Always Never
Directed by Carl Hunter
Starring Bill Nighy, Sam Riley, Alice Lowe and Jenny Agutter
In UK Cinemas June 14th, 2019

by Alex Plant

If you don’t think that Bill Nighy playing an eccentric Scouse tailor that hustles Scrabble games, whilst trying to solve the mystery of his missing son is one of the greatest log lines in British cinema history then I’m not sure we can be friends anymore. Sometimes Always Never is a delightfully quirky ray of sunshine amidst the overcast sea of often unrelentingly bleak British familial dramas that we seem to be so good at producing.

Scrabble-obsessed Alan (Nighy) becomes convinced that’s he’s playing an online version of the popular word game against his eldest son, Michael, who stormed out during a Scrabble-induced argument decades earlier, never to return. Along the way he invites himself to stay with younger son Peter (Riley) and his family, where he reconnects with a distant grandson, seduces a woman entangled in another unsolved missing persons case and plays lots and lots of Scrabble.

The part fits Nighy like the stylish suits his character is often seen in and his subtle Scouse accent makes his always-excellent delivery particularly melodious here. Sam Riley also shines, and his frustration towards Nighy’s many eccentricities make all their scenes sizzle deliciously. Jenny Agutter, Alice Lowe and Tim McInnerny all give equally memorable turns.

Frank Cottrell Boyce’s script is constantly sharp, funny and thoughtful, and, coupled with director Carl Hunter’s choice in visuals, we get to see a very unique take on England’s famously dreary North. The use of colour, quasi-animated driving sequences, title cards and stop-motion laying of Scrabble tiles lend a dreamlike quality to proceedings that compliments the quirky nature of the story perfectly. Every setup is immaculately crafted and considered, from the striking opening shot, to the Hotel Bar Scrabble Showdown. Hunter’s precise presentation is reminiscent of Wes Anderson, but there’s a level of subtlety that mean the stylishness never becomes overbearing or distracting.

Sometimes Always Never has a lot to say about grief and growing up in a single parent household. The question of whether a substitute can ever be as good as the real thing reoccurs throughout, often in amusing and relatable ways. While perhaps not all of the audience will be old enough to remember Pickwick Records, most people can probably relate to the childhood shame of owning a knock-off Subbuteo or Scrabble set. This all ties in very neatly with the central mystery and it’s a refreshing take on father/son relationships.

As with anything that can be accused of being “quirky”, Sometimes Always Never isn’t likely to be everyone’s cup of tea. It doesn’t offer a load of easy answers and its narrative is at times a little untidy. However, it has a unique sense of fun and style that we don’t see enough of in British films set up North and manages to be entertaining and intriguing in equal measures.


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