I’m “biast” (pro): love Winterbottom, Simm, and Henderson
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
One never knows what to expect from director Michael Winterbottom, which is why it’s always so exciting to hear he has a new film. Will it be science fiction, like the marvelous Code 46? Will it be historical drama, like the magnificent The Claim? Will it be a documentary, like the brutal Road to Guantanamo? Will it transcend genres, like the hilarious The Trip or the mind-rattling A Cock and Bull Story? Will it be the rare crushing disappointment, like The Killer Inside Me? Anticipation goes to a whole new delicious level when it comes to Winterbottom’s work, and I didn’t need to know anything about Everyday to know that I could not miss it at the London Film Festival last autumn. (It didn’t hurt, though, to learn that John Simm and Shirley Henderson were starring in it.)
So I had no idea what I was seeing unfold as Everyday opened and I found myself observing, through raw, documentary-style footage, Shirley Henderson waking up four small kids in a very modest suburban home in the early-morning darkness and shuffling the two girls off to a neighbor before hauling the two boys onto a train into London, then onto the tube, then ending up… where? oh no: a prison? A prison. They are visiting her husband, the kids’ father, and their visit could not be of a more mundane nature. Mostly, it’s the kids telling Dad what he’s missed, such as the first day of kindergarten for the youngest. Nothing dramatic at all.
Which is the point, one driven home via the accumulation of unremarkable prison visits that make up the film. We witness a succession of days, spread across five years, in which Karen (Henderson: Anna Karenina, The Nutcracker in 3D) ferries various configurations of kids to visit Ian (Simm: Doctor Who, Life on Mars) and they tell him all about what happened in school and who got into a fight and what they got for Christmas. This is everyday life for this family. It’s grinding, not least because we see that Ian is apparently being moved from prison to prison regularly, because there’s always an all new, all different horrible long trip via mass transit to get to him. Karen struggles to keep the family going in Ian’s absence — now she’s working in a DIY store; now she’s working in a pub — and to keep herself from succumbing to loneliness. And the kids get on with their work of growing up over the five years Ian is away…
The counterintuitive daring of focusing on the minutiae of daily life, even if in an untypical setting, and making it the entire point of the film would make Everyday extraordinary enough if not for this: how Winterbottom handles the matter of the children is unlike anything I’ve come across before in a narrative, fictional film. For Winterbottom shot the film in bits and pieces over five years, and so we see the four real-life siblings playing Karen and Ian’s children — Stephanie, Robert, Shaun, and Katrina Kirk, who use their real first names here — actually grow and change over a period of time filmmaking usually does not have the patience for. It’s powerfully affecting in a way that the usual method could never be: swapping out younger actors for slightly older ones is never quite as successful as is the plan. Winterbottom shot the kids in their own actual real environments — home and school — as well, which eliminates the need for much “performance” on the part of the kids. (Though their real-life father reportedly was stunned to see how easily they took to calling another man “Dad.”)
The sense that we’re peeking in on the life of a family under exceptional stress is profound, which is precisely what we’re meant to get from the film, which is at once low key and shuddering with inescapable domestic turbulence. Everyday was originally commissioned by British television network Channel 4 for a series on how entire families are impacted when one member goes to prison. This isn’t a crime story, and in fact we never learn what Ian did to land in prison (though we can guess that it was nothing violent; he appears to be in minimum-security facilities). It’s a love story about the great work it takes to maintain a connection when a family cannot be together.
viewed during the 56th BFI London Film Festival