Sometimes you stumble across a band, book or film and think ‘how did I miss that?’. Discovering Richard Jobson’s Bafta nominated 2005 film A Woman in Winter prompted me to ask that question as it’s a film that should be seen.
As with all of Jobson’s films A Woman in Winter is gorgeous to look at. The use of Edinburgh as a setting makes me wonder once again why such a cinematic city is not used more often as a backdrop to films. Jobson uses Old Town and New to great effect as the two central characters explore life with and without each other. Some of the cinematography is breathtaking, and if there is a modern Scottish film maker who uses the camera in a more artistic manner then I can’t think of them. Apart from Lynne Ramsay.
The film starts slowly with much of the dialogue stilted and awkward, but you soon realise that communication is one of the issues under examination. Why say anything if there is nothing to be said? There are periods of long silences, although, ultimately, not enough. Where the film really runs into trouble concerns the discussions about the (astro)physical rather than the metaphysical. Jobson is on safe ground in Edinburgh, it is when he reaches out to the stars that things go a little awry.
The subplot of the film surrounds quantum cosmology, and the team of Jamie Sives, Jason Fleming and Susan Lynch are completely miscast as the team of astronomers leaders. The problem is all about dialogue, which is at best fanciful, and is often indecipherable. The actors try to convey the gravitas of the matters they are discussing, but they’re fighting a losing battle. I’m reminded of the line that Harrison Ford is supposed to have said to George Lucas when given his latest Star Wars script; “George, you can type this stuff, but you can’t say it”.
And that’s a shame, because the film really succeeds when the dialogue is kept to a minimum. The central relationship between Sives’ Michael and the mysterious Caroline; a lovely performance from French actress Julie Gayet, is complex yet believable. They embark upon a love affair that is as intense as it is unsettling. From the beginning it is obvious that there is more going on between them than it appears to either us or them. Confusion reigns as we are never sure what is real and what is fantastical, but that is what saves the film. Their relationship is one that becomes an all consuming passion, and Jobson is enquiring about the nature of fate, love, and obsession. There are echoes of a few better known films, to my mind most notably Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, but this is no homage. There have been many ‘supernatural’ stories set in Edinburgh, but few unfold with the subtlety of A Woman in Winter. Here’s the trailer:
There are quite a few problems with A Woman in Winter, but they only serve to highlight the successes. The attempt to marry the central love affair to the discovery by the astronomers of a super nova never quite works, but it never derails the main story as it threatens to early on. This is an unusual and ambitious film, and even though that ambition is never quite fulfilled, it is refreshing that Scotland has a director who is willing to try new things and different styles. One of the reason that I think more people should see this film is to change the perception that is widely held about Jobson’s films, that they are straightforward affairs, all flash and little substance. This is not something I agree with as I think he always asks questions of the audience, but the view holds. He may have tried to overcompensate for this with the script to A Woman in Winter, making it unnecessarily complex in places, but, for all the problems mentioned, this is one of the most interesting films made in Scotland in the last 10 years, and sometimes interesting is better than best.
The film takes its title from The Skids song of the same name, so as a wee treat here they are performing the song in the 1980s with an introduction from Jobbers himself:
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Further thoughts can be found at scotswhayhae.
Alistair’s latest thoughts on Scottish books appear on the first Monday of every month.