mon 22/07/2024

Sometimes Always Never review - small but perfectly crafted | reviews, news & interviews

Sometimes Always Never review - small but perfectly crafted

Sometimes Always Never review - small but perfectly crafted

Bill Nighy leads an excellent cast in a tale of loss and lovely words

Sam Riley as Peter, Bill Nighy as Alan

A starring role for Scrabble is one of the things that sets this small-scale but deceptively affecting film apart.

Writer Frank Cottrell Boyce (a regular collaborator with Michael Winterbottom) based his script on his own short story, Triple Word Score, and with director Carl Hunter has developed it into a beautifully crafted meditation on loss and learning to live with your mistakes.

The fastidiously-dressed Alan (Bill Nighy, doing a nicely underplayed Liverpool accent) is a tailor by trade and a Scrabble obsessive by choice. He’s also a bit of a con-man, as we learn when he hustles Arthur (Tim McInnerny) into losing £200 when fate throws them together in a Lancashire B&B. Coincidentally, both are parents looking for a lost son, and are preparing to visit the mortuary the following morning to identify a corpse.

Scrabble has become life and death to Alan. His last memory of his missing boy is of an argument over a two-letter word, and the game now fills the void inside him. His relationship with his other son Peter (Sam Riley, excellent) is eccentric and sometimes tense, but the family have learned to tolerate, and even value, Alan’s peculiarities. For instance, he doesn’t think twice about moving into Peter’s son Jack’s bedroom, nonchalantly taking over his bed while also commandeering his computer to play in all-night online Scrabble sessions.

It’s the wordsmith in Boyce that gives the Scrabble theme its meaning, and he relishes the opportunity for arcane etymological diversions. “Esrom”, we learn, is a Danish cheese, and “scopone” an Italian card game. “Muzjiks” (Russian peasants) could score you 128. “All part of the fun is the magic of lovely words,” sighs Alan.

Cottrell is also a beady-eyed curator of boys’ own arcana, and Alan and Peter share some priceless banter based on trading nostalgic brand names. Peter laments Alan’s Arthur Daley-ish habit of palming him off with second-rate presents by recalling how he never got Airfix kits, only Revell ones. Instead of Subbuteo table football, he got the less prestigious Chad Valley version. Even their home Scrabble set was an inferior knock-off.

Nighy is a perfect fit for this role of the somewhat scuffed roué who still radiates an unmistakeable mystique, not least by driving a venerable Triumph Herald convertible (pictured above). Jenny Agutter delivers a little jewel of a performance as Arthur’s restless, disappointed wife, lured into Alan’s slightly seedy clutches. As she tells the astonished Peter, Alan is “an extremely considerate and accomplished lover.”

Indeed, unflashy expertise abounds, in the form of Alice Lowe as Peter’s wife Sue, and Louis Healy as Jack. Eventually it’s Peter who finds a kind of resolution by cannily beating his dad at his own game, applying some balm to the ugly bruises on his soul. Better late than never.

Nighy is a perfect fit as the somewhat scuffed roué who still radiates an unmistakeable mystique


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Explore topics

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters