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Emma (Elizabeth Healey, Mum’s List) is a high-powered solicitor, struggling to make it home through London during a(nother) tube strike. Ryan (Keir Charles, Man Up), is one of those fellows who create interesting sculptures out of sand on the edges of the river Thames when the tide is out. Emma has a hundred things to do, not least of which is to make it to her daughter’s birthday party. Ryan has nowt to do past maybe picking up some bits from Tesco when he’s done digging sandcastles, if he can remember. Failing to hail any of the black cabs already heaving with what would’ve been rail commuters and having already found herself heading the wrong way on a river ferry, Emma stops along the South Bank to take a call from a harried subordinate at work and promptly drops her phone over the embankment and straight into Ryan’s water bucket. As she rushes down the nearby steps to retrieve her mobile, we sense that a “meet-cute” is about to rear its head. And it is, sort-of. But it also isn’t, because Emma and Ryan have already met, many years ago. Ryan was Emma’s first love. They haven’t seen or heard from one another since they broke up.
It takes a second for the recognition to kick in but, when it does, Ryan is delighted. Emma, whilst cordial, is more pensive. The initial exchange of greetings is stilted and Emma can’t seem to get away quick enough, a smile failing to mask her apparent desire for the Earth to open up and swallow her. How many of us have been there? Almost all of us, I’d imagine. Emma makes her excuses and begins to head for nearby Waterloo station, but Ryan decides he’s finished playing in sand for the day and invites himself to tag along with her. However, the tube strike has closed Waterloo down altogether and Emma’s still stuck. No matter; she can borrow Ryan’s bicycle to get home. But, oh noes! Some rascal has stolen Ryan’s front wheel, again. Well, Ryan will just help Emma flag down a taxi. But Emma already tried that and those black cabs aren’t any less packed than they were earlier. What about a bus? Let’s wait for a bus.
As they wait, they begin to make small talk. Have you been on holiday this year? Yes, Thailand. Enjoy it? Yes. Have you been? No, never made it. If it wasn’t already fairly apparent looking solely at their career trajectories since last they met, it’s becoming clear – certainly to Emma – that they have become quite different people.
You can never go home again. Still, as their attempts to find Emma some transport home turn into a pedestrian road trip across the United Kingdom’s beautiful capital, small talk quickly turns to real talk, about what happened way back when; about things which hadn’t been spoken about yet, and which should’ve been, long since. Emma’s pensive because she’s mad at Ryan, and she’s mad because he left her, bailing on her without a word because of insecurities he was carrying about who he was and who he thought she deserved. Can they both make peace with a break-up they both regret before they can get Emma home? They’re going to try, and we’re going to stick with them while they do.
Across the River, by first-time feature writer/director Warren B. Malone, is a charming and intimate micro-slice of life, its ambitions no loftier than dropping us in on a chance meeting ‘twixt two former lovers, and staying with them just long enough to watch that meeting play out. Why do we want to stay to see them work out their past? One reason is certainly that the principals are relatable and sweet; Elizabeth Healey initially wounded, visibly lighting up as her guard comes down, and the affable Keir Charles channelling his inner Martin Freeman, both of them improvising their dialogue as they go. Another reason might be that the beautiful South Bank of the Thames in the daytime is a great place to want to hang out and we get to do just that throughout Across the River. I think though that the main reason we want to watch these guys bury the hatchet and find a good place from whence to view the life they had together is that we’d all like to be granted that opportunity; however well-meant we may have been, we’ve all flubbed the end of a relationship. We wanted to ride off into the sunset and instead we fell off the back of the horse and into the horseshit. Across the River gives us that second go at “Good-bye” we’d all like to have taken, at least once.