Directed by Alice Troughton | Written by Alex MacKeith | 103 min | ▲▲▲△△ | VOD and Digital
Here’s a tasty little movie recommended for the keen Richard E Grant fan out there.
The Lesson is an outrageous melodrama turned thriller that trades in a whole lot of long, lingering looks between the players and myths around brilliant literary talent. It doesn’t really pay off, but this movie is never about the destination, it’s about the sizzle that bubbles up along the way.
Liam Somers (Daryl McCormack, who made a splash last year in Good Luck To You, Leo Grande) is a newly minted novelist, taking a tutoring gig out at the country estate of his literary hero, J.M. Sinclair (Grant, chomping on the scenery), who’s struggling to complete a new book.
It’s Sinclair’s sullen boy, Bertie (Stephen McMillan), who needs a steadying hand in order to pass university entrance exams, and this while Liam doesn’t let on he’s a Sinclair stan.
Complicating matters is Mrs Sinclair (Julie Delpy), who has her own collections of secrets though her ambiguous feelings about her husband’s cunnilingus skills aren’t one of them. Before long Liam has made time with all the members of this fraught family, one that’s still reeling from the death of the other son, who inherited his father’s gift for writing.
The thing is, Liam’s motivation is never entirely clear. That’s both good and sometimes bad for the movie.
McCormack is powerfully charismatic, but the film requires him to be vulnerable in reaction to criticism, and he doesn’t quite convince as someone who would be humbled in those circumstances. It’s almost like he’s too experienced, too in control, but that confidence is what everyone else in the film is attracted to. The push and pull of the sexual subtext between the characters gives the picture its juice.
Grant practically levitates above all of this — his loathsome imperiousness here could be fairly compared with his Darwin Mayflower in Hudson Hawk more than 30 years ago.
The trash suggested by my headline really kicks in with a third act plot twist, which demands Liam use his almost photographic memory — Bertie calls it his “party trick” — to recreate a destroyed manuscript. It’s entirely outrageous but at that stage of the piece either you’re in or you’re out.
Meanwhile director Troughton spends a lot of time shooting the wildlife in the watering hole out back of the Sinclair mansion. Chekov’s Beaver isn’t a thing, but with the attention given to the pond’s murky waters and amphibious denizens, it’ll be no surprise when everyone ends up down there at one point or another.