Tom Burke and a superb Ruth Wilson star in True Things, Harry Wootliff’s British drama about a tender (then toxic) romance that is visually interesting but gradually peters out.
Thirtysomething Kate (Ruth Wilson) lives an unremarkable life in the quiet seaside town of Ramsgate. Her job at a benefits centre sees her either harassed by clients or reprimanded by her boss for her constant lateness. That may be why she seems unengaged, looking at sunny beaches online as a form of escapism. As a co-worker says, “it’s like you’re on another bloody planet.” Then she meets a man known only as Blond (Tom Burke). He may have only just been released from prison, but Kate is easily smitten by Blond and his roguish charm. A chance sexual encounter in a car park later, and a romance begins between them. However, their relationship soon turns dangerous, with Kate becoming slowly consumed by it.
Based on a novel by Deborah Kay Davies, True Things marks the sophomore feature film from British writer-director Harry Wootliff (her previous film was the 2018 drama Only You). The title comes from an Instagram post that Kate sees of a loving couple on an exotic beach. It is a romanticised version of romance that completely contrasts with her humdrum life – and is the reason she dives headfirst into a relationship we know will not end well. At first, though, their love is sweet in its own way. Blond seems kind and charming, calling Kate ‘darling’ and gradually bringing her out of her previously-passive life.
But even as Kate wishes that “we could stay like this forever,” there are signs that their tender romance is about to turn unhealthy. The second half of True Things then is a snap back to reality. Blond starts to disappear more frequently, and we quickly get a sense of how he has screwed up Kate’s life (there are similarities between this and The Souvenir, which starred Tom Burke as a destructive partner). When he does return, he is more emotionally volatile than ever. And yet, Kate misses Blond. When her friend (Hayley Squires) says he is using her, Kate makes excuses for him. It is as if she cannot cope without him, becoming more unstable when he isn’t around.
That is conveyed through the experimental and dazed cinematography from Ashley Connor (Madeline’s Madeline, Sharp Stick). Her handheld camerawork becomes shakier. Soft focuses see Kate surrounded by hazy backgrounds. And Connor’s prevalent use of close-ups allows us to get into the minute detail, even showing the skin peeling off Kate’s lips. Meanwhile, Ruth Wilson (also a co-producer) is superb here. She anchors the film with a believable and sensitive performance that is varied too, with Kate going from cracking jokes at an inopportune time to collapsing into a heap. She can also be cagey at certain points, a quality she shares with the charismatic Burke.
However, there is a big problem with True Things. The second half may look adventurous, but it also sees the story gradually peter out and become a bit listless. The climax sees Kate and Blond travel to Spain, with Kate again acting distant. It is as if she is perpetually looking for a means of escape wherever she is at a particular moment. When she is at work, she wants to escape to be with Blond, And when she is with him, she still wants to escape. Yet Wootliff and co-writer Molly Davies end up going in a more ambiguous direction with the final scenes. And considering the story being told, a more definitive ending would have suited the film better.
The tender (then toxic) romance at the core of True Things works mainly because of Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke, with Wilson in particular given the opportunity to showcase her talents here. And thanks to DoP Ashley Connor, the film is visually interesting throughout. Nevertheless, it is also quite aloof, pushing the relationship and the theme of unattainable fantasy vs reality into the background. The result is something with too much ambiguity, as made clear in the rushed ending. Perhaps it is meant to symbolise a sort of emancipation for our main character. But by the time we get to Kate dancing in the nightclub, lights blaring around her, that emotional catharsis does not feel earned.
True Things is now available to watch on digital in the UK and Ireland, and will be released on DVD & Blu-Ray on July 4, 2022.
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