Klaus Härö’s My Sailor, My Love is more than just a romance, poignantly exploring the bittersweet complexities of a strained father/daughter relationship.
On the surface, Klaus Härö’s My Sailor, My Love is a film about a later-in-life romance, of a widow and a widower meeting and falling in love. But in actuality, it’s a film that deals with a tempestuous relationship between a father and a daughter, and how that new love in his life affects her and her mother’s memory. It’s a sensitive, gentle film that doesn’t over complicate itself, portraying a bittersweet but authentic picture of family life that isn’t too worried about neatly tying up its loose ends.
Grace (Catherine Walker) is worried about her dad, Howard (James Cosmo), a retired sea captain with ailing health and a tricky disposition. With his steadfast refusal to entertain the idea of a care home, she places an advertisement for a home help in the local pub. Widow Annie (Brid Brennan) replies and, despite some initial frostiness, soon finds herself enjoying the routine, as well as Howard’s company. Their relationship soon becomes romantic and soothes old wounds for the both of them, but only intensifies the strained relationship between Grace and her dad.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of My Sailor, My Love is the way in which it is able to subtly shift our perceptions of its characters. As the film begins, it presents Howard as a bit of a curmudgeon – stubborn but with a capacity for kindness – and Grace as his slightly overbearing daughter that micromanages his health and home life. But as the film progresses, and with the introduction of Annie and the burgeoning relationship between her and Howard as the catalyst, we start to see that the dynamics between the pair of them are in actuality quite different.
Grace’s nature, as we come to realise, stems from just how poorly Howard has treated her over the course of her life. As well as her own struggles with her marriage and mental health, Howard’s often thoughtlessly callous and dismissive behaviour goes a long way in explaining exactly why Grace is the way she is. It meaningfully shifts the view of what, on paper, could well have been the ‘villain’ of the film and adds a richness to Grace’s character.
And Walker portrays Grace’s struggle beautifully, with a rawness and vulnerability that really emphasises the years of pent up hurt and disappointment. It feels as though Härö, and writers Jimmy Karlsson and Kirsi Vikman, are much more interested in adding dimension to the complexities and nuances of the strained relationship between father and daughter than simply telling the rather sweet story of an older couple finding love. And it makes the film much more interesting, if a little more on the bittersweet side, as a result.
But, although not the crux of the film’s narrative, the relationship between Howard and Annie is genuinely touching. The transition from animosity to ambivalence to companionship feels genuine, and through their discovery of one another we, as the audience, in turn learn about them as characters. We learn that Annie isn’t as meek as she first appears, ready to stand up for herself and call out Howard when he crosses a line, and that Howard is capable of affection. Cosmo and Brennan have great chemistry and their (eventual) fondness for each other feels genuine and never saccharine. Härö even makes some of their interactions gently funny, which then makes the difficulties of the relationship between Grace and Howard that much more bittersweet.
My Sailor, My Love is a film that is surprisingly deeper than it appears. While not maudlin, it doesn’t avoid the darker aspects of ageing, strained familial ties and the struggles of caring. It isn’t afraid to shift its tone quite suddenly, but in a way that doesn’t feel jarring and instead gives the revelations – which are slowly and thoughtfully revealed as the film goes on – the emotional weight they deserve. It’s a film that isn’t afraid of disappointment, managing to avoid being a downer even when it tackles its heavier themes, and ends up as something as hopeful as it is emotional.
My Sailor, My Love had its UK Premiere at the 2023 Glasgow Film Festival in March and was released on digital platforms in the UK on June 9.