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All of Us Strangers ★★★★★



Directed: Andrew Haigh

Cast: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, Claire Foy

Released: 26th January 2024

The dead-of-night classic episodes of TV programmes of years gone by are on in the graveyard slot, stirring up vivid nostalgia. These projections of the past prompted personal memories, abruptly awoken from their slumber. Vibrant in colour on-screen, yet the contrast in the deepest corners of our mind can all feel so black and white in our interpretation.

Building a high-rise of perpetual grief for those we’ve lost and our inner self, too. And when that alarm bell rings, we remove ourselves from that metaphorical building to seek out the one bright spot from above that elevates us once more from the depths of despair. For Andrew Scott’s lonely writer, it could just lie in the unfolding mystery of his endearing neighbour, Paul Mescal. We may all be strangers heading in but by the close of this devastatingly beautiful masterclass from director Andrew Haigh. Audiences will feel united in the collective catharsis experienced.

Mirroring his Word document, the tower block Adam (Scott) resides in is eerily empty. He intended to write about his parents remaining stuck on the ground floor, waiting for a ping of inspiration to open the door. Wearing a haunted look as they stroll through the tedium of everyday life, there’s a palpable sense of unease and reluctance about Adam from the outset. Their initial exchanges with Harry (Mescal) see his nerves fully displayed, reluctant to unlock his heart for another man. His slouched stance directly results from carrying that weight of emotional baggage on his shoulders.

Even what he considers work commutes are bereft of human interaction, awkwardly arriving at his old family home. However, Adam doesn’t bank on the authentic conversations with the ghosts of his mom (Claire Foy) and dad (Jamie Bell). He was confronted with the prospect of recalibrating his thoughts on his upbringing and how he articulates his feelings to Harry moving forward.

In a sequence from Haigh’s 2011 film Weekend, a work that, hand on heart, saved my life, giving me the courage to declare I’m gay. Tom Cullen and Chris New act out a scene imagining a tender coming out between a father and a son. I consider All Of Us Strangers as its spiritual, emotionally even richer successor through these characters. Haigh offers a deep dive into the different levels of grief and identity from a distinct queer perspective, both in the apparent sense and within us when significant parts of ourselves are shrouded in darkness, no longer powered by those we held dear.

First and foremost, factoring in Adam’s age. It reads like a love letter to a generation of British queer people traumatised by Thatcherite rule and the HIV/Aids pandemic, scarred by the trauma they were confronted by whilst perhaps left emotionally stunted in how they express themselves beyond that period. The sheer vulnerability in how Adam and Harry discuss their sexuality with such bracing honesty. That genuine fear of being intimate with someone potentially killing them, alongside how it has informed their approach to relationships since is incredibly moving. Also, as queer people, we’re often categorised as the life and soul of the party and epitomised here in a pulsating club scene drenched in ‘bisexual lighting’. But when that intoxicating music stops in the early hours, it’s alarming how quickly our sense of loneliness can kick in. Seeing that visualised so astutely from Adam’s point of view will inevitably speak to many a gay man’s experience.

In a broader context, its handling of the complex relationships we have with our family is no less impactful. To indulge for a moment. In the early subsequent years after my coming out. These intentions of fully understanding myself as a gay man had to be rightfully pushed aside, instead reluctantly learning what loss felt like. For us, it was a painful two-year journey of looking after yet ultimately losing my Mom and Nan to cancer. Compounded by a psychologically abusive stepdad, which I’m relieved to say is long gone from my life—your mind races in those early weeks and months. You reinterpret specific nuances of previous situations, wondering if you thought the same or genuinely realised what was going on in that moment, would it have altered course for the better? Would it have spared such heartache? You mourn all the time passed in not simply being yourself despite their insistence in loving us, again contemplating if those relationships would have been even more robust and spending so much time mired in that mindset. You lose sight of how to live yourself, knowing deep down that if your loved ones’ voices were ringing in your ear, they’d tell you not to waste the hours left on your body clock.

Specifically for Adam, his parents are very much victims of circumstance. Bringing up a child in a political climate that was utterly hateful towards homosexuals. Frozen in time, the profound conversations they share offer a poignant reconciliation of oneself as it breaks down those barriers for all involved. The long-overdue embrace from Jamie Bell’s Dad when that seemed inconceivable in Adam’s formative years. Adam outgrows those outdated perceptions to inform Claire Foy’s anxious but inquisitive mother about how queer people live now. As those tears pour out, Haigh dials up the colour palette with cinematographer Jamie D Ramsay to give these sequences a warm, instead of sunset glow. The dusk finally set in on the thoughts that tortured them.

In a deft showcase of how intricate our parental relationships can be. Jamie Bell and Claire Foy know precisely when to undercut proceedings with gentle humour to balance out the eventual tough love towards Adam, providing both cosiness and heartbreak through their delicate performances. It is a savvy portrayal of how our smiley behaviour on the surface disguises a multitude of pain on the inside. Yet, we’re oddly comfortable in offering a safe space for others to air it—Paul Mescal transfixes the role of Harry at the heart of it all. A blazing chemistry, both sexually and emotionally, with Mescal, coupled with conveying the tribulations of a middle-aged gay man to his parents in a manner that wouldn’t look out of place on his teenage self. Andrew Scott turns in a fittingly otherworldly performance that will forever be imprinted on my mind.

With All Of Us Strangers, The message is crystal clear: grief strikes us all eventually. All stored up in our hearts. When we turn in at night, we almost end up consoling it. But we will never be alone in that. We’re still allowed to embrace one another in that company. Reminiscing about those dear to us we’ve lost. We can share and heal in that experience. They will always be on our minds. Whether past or present. That is the power of love.

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