Considering what a banner year 2011 was for British cinema, Weekend, the second feature from director Andrew Haigh, may prove to be the very best of the crop of accomplished home grown films that hit multiplexes last year. Set over the course of a single autumn weekend in Nottingham, the film begins when Russell (Tom Cullen) meets Glen (Chris New) in a gay club and they sleep together. Although they initially think it’ll be little more than a one-night stand, they wind up spending the whole weekend together, in the process forging a potentially life-changing connection.
Weekend falls in the tradition of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise and Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation: films which are less about plot than they are about exploring the relationship that develops between two people who make an unexpected emotional connection. Most of what could be considered the plot of the film happens in its opening ten or twenty minutes, after which it takes the form of a prolonged conversation between two men about love, life and what it means to be gay in contemporary Britain. Watching Glen, who is very open and vocal about his sexuality, and Russell, who is more reticent, explore their differences and similarities is hugely engaging, and paints a very distinct and personal vision of contemporary gay culture.
What makes the film even better is that it accomplishes all that without ever feeling self-important, or like an issues-driven film. It’s primarily a study about the relationship between two people, and its examination of what it means to be gay arises from the natural tension between the characters. The greatest strength of the film is that it manages to examine ideas of cultural and sexual identity without ever letting that examination dominate the film entirely.
Much of the credit for the way in which the film maintains the balance between its ideas and its characters must go to Haigh, of course, whose script is shot through with a sense of giddy excitement that can only come from the uncertainty of any new relationship, but also to his two leads, who make Russell and Glen feel incredibly real. The chemistry between the two is so apparent from their opening scenes together that it gives weight to their conversations, making it obvious from fairly early on that there may be something more to their time together than just a chance encounter.
Both Cullen and New are thoroughly charming and they play off each other so naturally that it is hard not to get invested in their burgeoning relationship, making the question of whether or not they will be able to be together once Sunday evening rolls around one that demands an answer, though Haigh stops from going that far and, like Linklater and Coppola, leaves his characters at a point of hopeful uncertainty. It’s a bittersweet moment that caps off a beautiful, compelling story perfectly, and this remarkable film hopefully marks the maturation of a great British talent.