Three years after premiering her BAFTA-nominated debut feature, Only You, British filmmaker Harry Wootliff returns to the festival circuit with True Things, a mature and enticing film, suitable for a sophomore project by one of Britain’s rising stars. Centered around a thirtysomething benefits office worker named Katie (Ruth Wilson) and her humdrum existence, the film cleverly uses the familiar melodramatic tropes to its advantage. Of course, it has to do with a man – a handsome but unreachable man – that would wrench Katie out of her self-effacing day of life. Tom Burke, who translates his attractively brusque persona from Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, plays the nameless guy on welfare whose words of love devotion are always followed by disappearances and dismissal.
Wootliff works with the blueprint of Deborah Kay Davies’s novel “True Things About Me” to deliver an obsessively thorough picture of the exhilaration and complicity a toxic relationship can sentence one to. Wilson, whose production company also backed the film, along with Jude Law’s own Riff Raff U.K, seems a perfect fit to portray a woman whose own self-image is decaying slowly. Katie rarely eats, doesn’t fare well socially, and she’s sexually eager on the occasions when a dating app swipe would turn physical. Such a synthesis between bodily ascesis and carnal appetite already paints the protagonist as prey to her own desires, while the professional aspect of her life sinks deeper into her tardiness and habit of skipping work.
To shape Katie’s character so thoroughly, Wootliff pays attention to details which only tease her life outside of her immediate surroundings. An empty kitchen brings little solace, her excuses for arriving late on the job are peculiarly childish, and the hesitant way she scrolls through her Instagram feed – both gestures and words alike reveal a deeply-set insecurity entwined with a passionate discontent out of this life she’s built for herself. Much like the female protagonist of Only You, Katie seems to have set herself up for misery with a headstrong attitude that clashes with her idealistic desire to be loved unconditionally.
Only featured as ‘Blonde’ in Katie’s phone, her lover is made ever-present by the way cinematographer Ashley Connor emulates her trademark hazy subjective approach, clenching the characters in tight close-ups with a handheld camera – a style she’s perfected over the years working with filmmakers such as Josephine Decker and Desiree Akhavan. With its meticulous devotion to every facial mimic of Wilson’s, and each involuntary reach towards her phone, the film solidifies the lingering absence of her anonymous crush. Burke is phenomenal even with his badly dyed hair and scrappy clothes, he only needs to soften his timbre and lock his eyes with Katies’ in an irresistible longing, and the audience swoons, converted.
True Things portrays a destructive relationship with nuance and consideration, for it does not spare the viewer all the instances of disappointment, gaslighting and emotional pain experienced by Katie. With unending empathy towards her and a total lack of demonization/glorification towards him, the film presents an autonomous world made out of complex games and power dynamics, as every relationship actually is. Sustaining a perfect equilibrium between the dramatic arcs and their emotional after-effects, True Things can be easily named the best British romantic drama of the year.
This review is from the Venice Film Festival. There is currently no U.S. distribution for the film.