It's impossible to watch this film without thinking of Joanna Hogg's weasel bourgeois dramas Unrelated (2008) and Archipelago (2010). In common with Hogg's highly acclaimed oeuvre, A Long Way from Home utilises natural dialogue, relaxed performance and (Hogg regular) Ed Rutherford's unobtrusive cinematography as a cunning way into the interpersonal crises of the British abroad.
James Fox and Brenda Fricker play a well-to-do couple who have retired to life of rigid routines in France. She babbles amiably about relatives back home, is always forgetting to buy stamps and, once a week, orders the steak at a local restaurant. He, meanwhile, wanders around the local town and frequently forgets his hat. There are doctor's appointments and errands and strolls.
The predictable patterns of the marriage are thrown into disarray by the arrival of a younger British couple comprising pretty Natalie Dormer and her obnoxious partner (Paul Nicholls). The latter spends much of his vacation being a crashing wine bore and conducting unspecified business on the phone. His quieter girlfriend increasingly becomes an object of bewitchment for the older gentleman, an emotional state that brings about night terrors and spousal tears: his wife of many decades, we suspect, knows very well what is going on.
The balmy Provençal light recalls the beach scenes of Death in Venice. That, alas, is where the similarities end. What Hogg does looks effortless. But Virginia Gilbert's post-Hogg drama is laboured. The dialogue and situations simply never feel authentic. The younger characters are poorly developed and hollow. The older ones are mysterious in all the wrong ways. How on earth did firecracker Fricker end up with stuffy James Fox? And why is he so enraptured by such a dull blonde zero?
The best moments, inevitably, belong to the Irish Oscar winner: Fricker’s earthy practicality adds much needed humour and clout to a film that might otherwise dissolve entirely against the lovely light.