By Fergus Henderson. In the opening moments of Marilyn Edmond’s directorial debut Connect, an unidentified man wills himself off the side of a cliff in North Berwick. For anyone familiar with the tragic suicide of east coaster Scott Hutchison (of Frightened Rabbit) this image will cast a haunting pall over the film, lending it a raw resonance. Even though Connect is mainly a modest, sober, and sweet story of male mental health, the full darkness of its subject matter lies under its surface.
As the opening scene’s repercussions echo through the town, they seem to hit our protagonist Brian (Kevin Guthrie) the hardest. Brian is a quietly depressed young man who works a dull Home Hardware job, and as our introduction to him makes clear, he has been thinking of taking his own life for a while.
He masks his deep sadness with the kind of performative masculine stoicism that many will immediately recognise. He struggles to communicate with his mum, his dad is the classic Scottish “alright son” emotionally closed off pub patron, and his sister has her own priorities, having just given birth. It isn’t long before Brian makes his own attempt, only to be rescued at the last moment by benevolent, mysterious stranger Jeff (Stephen McCole). It is Jeff’s gruff but sincere support that finally steers Brian onto a better path, and to redemptive romance with young mum Sam (Siobhan Reilly).
Whilst Connect’s middle section, post-Jeff, does pitch itself as more of a standard television drama in which Brian deals with the trials and vicissitudes of a fully engaged life, as well as Sam’s alcoholic ex-husband Simon (performed with deceptive texture by Neil Leiper), the film has an ace up its sleeve that I won’t get into.
What I can say is that the film never loses sight of the seriousness of its subject matter, nor does it present male depression as a simple or easily fixed issue. As Jeff emphasises, becoming okay with yourself is a profoundly long process. Similarly the film wisely avoids drawing any analogues between Brian’s depression and his sister’s post-natal depression – whilst they may be able to help each other, they are both experiencing uniquely different struggles. The gulf that depression has created between Brian and the rest of the world is always close to consuming him.
Because the film is primarily a character study carried by Kevin Guthrie’s soulful, understated performance, and because it tells an intimate tale, director Edmond has made Connect an understated film. This means that when it works, it works very well, and when it doesn’t, the weaknesses (both Sam’s character and the film’s late-in-the-game critique of social media are a little slight) feel less impactful.
It is perhaps a shame that the film’s production is modest enough to feel a little low-stakes, a little television drama. It is hard to imagine Connect ever having a commercial release. Nevertheless, it is a disarmingly powerful drama, directed with empathy and restraint, centring on an outstanding performance by Kevin Guthrie. Most importantly it is that rare thing, a film that fully understands and respects its subject matter, and for that it deserves to be seen. It could help a lot of people.
Connect hits cinemas 25th October.
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