Never Steady, Never Still is an outstanding debut from writer/director Kathleen Hepburn. It is a delicate examination of grief, familial relationships and strength in the face of adversity set against the unforgiving bleak terrain of British Columbia, Canada.
The opening scene of the film sets the tone; the viewer hears the small, frail voice over of Judy (Shirley Henderson) tell of the miscarrying her first child because her body was just too frail. We listen to her tell this heart rendering story and the water just keeps moving back and forth. The scene clearly sets up the film – it will be bleak but life keeps moving on. Life is never steady or still and that is a lesson both mother and son learn. Never Steady, Never Still follows a fifty something year old mother battling an aggressive form of Parkinson and her eighteen year old son grapples with his sexual identity.
The sea is a metaphor for Judy’s grief and the physical tremours she suffers due to Parkinson’s, it is never steady never still and neither is she. The attention to detail and focusing on the little things is what heightens the viewer’s awareness of what a cruel disease Parkinson’s is. Watching as Judy tries to button up her jeans and sharing her frustrations, yet she doesn’t let that stop her from carrying on with the business of living. The setting of the film perfectly matches the bleakness of the story – the landscape is vast and unforgiving which is in total contrast to the tiny stature of Judy, who despite the disease is warm loving and forgiving of her tender hearted son, Jamie. Kathleen Hepburn uses the physicality of Shirley Henderson to perfection – everything around her the other actors, truck and landscape appear gigantic against her.
Does it work? Is it diverse storytelling?
Yes and yes.
This really is a must see, not just for the tour de force performances but also for being courageous enough to show a different side of feminity with someone suffering from a disability at the beating heart of the film. The character of Judy is fragile yet she posses an almost Herculean fighting spirit even minus 30 degrees and alone will not stop her living.
It’s 110 minutes and I do hope to see more from Kathleen Hepburn but there may have been one too many sweeping landscape shots. However, the camera work is exceptional especially when Judy is in the water. Whilst Never Steady, Never Still is grim and heartbreaking and you almost give up hope until the very end and then, you are surprised just as in life Hepburn saves up one more surprise. Judy is pushed and pulled so is the viewer between wanting the suffering to end and hoping that she makes it through.
Never Steady, Never Still is on limited release in cinemas across the UK, tomorrow Friday 20 April.