The One And Only Review
The One And Only hit the headlines late last year when its producer, Leslee Udwin, who also produced East Is East, noted that due to the release of Die Another Day, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets and Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, her small British romantic comedy was pushed back until February 2003. Whilst Udwim called on the UK Government to introduce film quotas, Alan Parker, chairman of the Film Council, said that producers should use their common sense and not release their films at the same time as major blockbusters. Udwin, in response, pointed to the manner in which the French government protect their films through the use of quotas and whilst she does have a point regarding the distribution of British films in their local market, it is a shame that such a small, gentle film became lost in an argument that threatened to become political.
The One And Only stars Richard Roxburgh as Neil, a kitchen fitter who works for his wife's kitchen design company and who, as a couple, have failed to conceive after years of trying. Neil and his wife, Sharon (Kerry Rolfe), are now presented with the chance of adopting a six-year-old African orphan providing Neil can convince the adoption agency of his willingness to welcome a young child. The problem is that Neil isn't sure if being a father is what he wants - fitting kitchens is all he really wants to do. Meanwhile, Stevie (Justine Waddell), who is married to star Italian footballer Sonny (Jonathan Cake), has been instructed to see her doctor after also failing to conceive, but during their consultation, he finds that she is simply reluctant to become pregnant.
A few weeks pass and Stevie and Sonny buy a kitchen from Sharon, which Neil is contracted to fit, during which time he and Stevie get to know one another a little better. When Sharon is killed in a road accident the same day as Mgala (Angel Thomas) arrives from the adoption agency, Neil finds himself alone with a child he didn't want and Stevie discovers that Sonny hasn't been wholly faithful. A few days later, Neil and Stevie meet again on a bridge over the river Tyne and wonder aloud, and to each other, what love and parenthood might mean...
Based on the 1999 Danish film, Den Eneste Ene (The One And Only), this is a small and delicate little film about the expectations one has with parenthood. In the case of the two couples presented in this film, each one has conflicting ideas about what being parents mean, what the impact on their lives will be and will they be able to manage the lives of their children when they can barely manage their own. In the case of Neil and Sharon, they represent a troubled marriage, which she believes will be saved by the adoption of a child whereas he sees this process as the impetus he needs to finally leave. Offering a different point of view, Stevie represents the type of insecure young woman with a famous, or sometimes a not-so-famous, husband who fears that being pregnant, which, in her mind, includes stretch marks, sagging breasts and a lack of fitted clothes, will result in her husband leaving her. Her husband, Sonny, meanwhile, is a man defined by his ability to have children and any failure to do so means to be a failure as a man.
Where this film differs from what would be expected, is in killing Sharon off so early. Admittedly, mentioning this could be seen as a spoiler but it occurs so early as to be central to the development of the plot. The main challenge the film presents to Neil is to find something within his life beyond kitchens - even the adoption of Mgala was something he was to have walked away from before Sharon's accidental death. When that event forces him to become responsible for Mgala's family life, despite efforts to return her to the adoption agency and, one assumes, to Africa, Neil finds that it wasn't Mgala he was trying to run away from but Sharon. When, after meeting Stevie, he sees a hopefulness in a new relationship, the idea of committing to a child comes naturally following a true commitment to a lifelong partner.
Lastly, what is most fascinating as regards the relationship the adults have with children is in demonstrating how Neil's best friend, Stan (Michael Hodgson), is the only grown-up who manages to relate to Mgala on terms understood to both. Despite all other adults conversing with Mgala in a painfully slow voice to try to make her understand, Stan simply chats to her in much the same manner as he would do with any other human being - naturally and easily. That the two of them begin an oddly one-sided friendship - he talks, she listens - is entirely understandable and similar to the way in which aunts, uncles and family friends converse with children, both older and younger than six. Without Stan having any commitment to Mgala as such, he can relax as he would with other human company.
The cast are wonderful throughout with Justine Waddell and Richard Roxburgh having the standout roles of the film. Waddell is a terrific actress, best known for starring in period dramas on BBC1, notably the title role in the BBC's adaptation of Wilkie Collins' The Woman In White, and her portrayal of Stevie is all emotionally-battered confidence and vulnerability whilst Roxburgh's Neil is a gentle, easy-going man who wants nothing but a simple life. That Stevie and Neil meet is indicative of their need to be in a relationship that is honest rather than aspirational, as they are with Sonny and Sharon, respectively.
The One And Only has been anamorphically transferred in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and, despite the lo-fi nature of the film, ensures that Newcastle has never looked better. From the aerial shots taken on flybys around The Angel Of The North through a view from a boat that is passing along the Tyne to the Bigg Market on a chilly blue morning at sunrise, the film and its subsequent transfer onto DVD highlight the beauty of northern England wonderfully. Admittedly, the quality of the transfer may have something to do with the lack of space taken up by so few extras but the transfer is wonderful nonetheless.
The film has been presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds fine given the subject matter of the film. Being a gentle romantic comedy with a substantial amount of dialogue, The One And Only audio track offers little action through the rear speakers but that is well matched to the action onscreen. As it is, the soundtrack is clean and free of noise, offering sufficient space for the dialogue to shine.
Theatrical Trailer (1m46s, 1.85:1 Anamorphic, DD5.1): This is a short trailer made up of highlights from the film, covering the major themes in a brief but competent manner.
Deleted Scenes (1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): There are eleven deleted scenes included on the DVD but are without either a spoken-word or text introduction as to why they were removed from the film:
- Scene 16 (1m27s)
- Scene 47 (13s)
- Scene 78 (33s)
- Scene 80 (2m18s)
- Scene 92 (54s)
- Scene 98 (26s)
- Scene 102 (13s)
- Scene 105 (1m09s)
- Scene 109 (15s)
- Scene 115 (1m14s)
- Scene 115 (20s)
Behind The Camera (6m40s, 1.33:1 Non-Anamorphic, 2.0 Stereo): This bonus feature is a mix of outtakes, bloopers, behind-the-scenes shots and Angel Thomas' dance practice, split into eight short chapters.
This is a terrifically understated little film, which has been released with a wonderful transfer having originally been made in a beautifully affecting manner. There may be an understanding of children and parenthood required to really get the most out of this film but conversations with other parents reveals that many of the same hopes and fears he hold as regards our own lives, not to mention the wishes one holds onto for our children, are held firm by other parents the world over, making this as close as filmmaking one can get to dealing with being a mother or father since Steve Martin's Parenthood (1989). Sadly, this won't be for everyone as it's such a gentle film that it will probably be seen as out-of-place having been commercially released on DVD, being closer to something that appears as frequently on television as you would expect to watch it on DVD. If, however, this intrigues you enough to seek it out then it is truly recommended as being both a comically and emotionally rich film that offers a great deal of enjoyment - highly recommended.