A Restless Poem – Never Steady, Never Still (Film Review)

A story and a visual poem that revolves around two individuals tied by blood trying their best to remain in control of their lives after one life that kept them anchored passes away. Directed by Kathleen Hepburn (It’s Not as If We Haven’t Been Here for a While… 2010), beautifully captured by Cinematographer Norm Li (Tricks on the Dead: The Story of the Chinese Labour Corps in WWI, 2014) and led by the two talents Shirley Henderson (Trainspotting, 1996) and Théodre Pellerin (Boost, 2017). After the tragic passing of father and husband Ed (Nicholas Campbell), the two feel obliged to fill the gap of the provider he’d left behind. Never Steady, Never Still, is a piece unassuming yet powerful until the very end.

Judy (Shirley Henderson), suffering with Parkinson’s disease and now faced with grief, begins to slowly lose control and becomes ever more alienated from the outside world. Unable to fulfil tasks such as pouring coffee to driving to the supermarket, she’s inevitably forced to remain at home. During her group therapy sessions catered to those dealing with Parkinson’s Disease, Judy mentions what could’ve been had she not been diagnosed, even after having been advised not to, she continues refusing to accept her condition.

Her son Jamie (Théodore Pellerin) leaves to work on the oil fields – a wish given by his father before he passed – and is confronted with the harsh reality outside of his secluded home on the coast of Stuart Lakes, British Columbia, Canada. For him the pendulum swings from grief to the desire to become a man in such a lonely hole as the oil fields – which is home to older and masculine men comfortable about sex and devoid of empathy. Seeking sexual satisfaction whilst knocking into others at the fields bullies Jamie into surrender.

The two come together in tears and confession of their regret for lacking the ability to aid the other. This scene begins after Jamie pulls Judy out from her bath, which she’d been trapped in until he’d got home. Covering Judy in blankets and towels, Jamie on his knees, breaks and she simply reflects this while in arms. The two, in this scene alone, are completely symmetrical.

Throughout the piece the viewer remains beside both Judy and Jamie, intimately involved in their struggles day to day. During this, there are segments that include monologues from both regarding previous experiences and how it’d affected them. This brings an interesting documentary feel to it and gives the viewer a window to peer into, providing a better understanding of the characters sensitivities as they become alienated from the world.

With the films focus on sensitive subjects such as Parkinson’s Disease, which director Kaltheen Hepburn having had first hand experience due to her mother having struggled with it for twenty-one years, the casting was an important task. Shirley Henderson’s commitment to the role allows the viewer to not only believe in her actions and words but draw emotion from it as well, it’s no surprise she won the VFCC award for Best Actress in a Canadian Film.

The son – a frustrated yet sensitive soul – is brought to life with Théodore Pellerin and gives us a man with a irrepressible fire in his belly. The dynamic between both Théodore and Shirley seems natural and simply pulls us further into this difficult story.

From frame to frame the piece feels like a melancholic picture album, each with a quiet emotion attached. The sea being a character itself with the most screen time throughout due to its associations with both Judy and Jamie – both are restless or to better phrase it; never steady, never still. The piece is blanketed with the soft compositions of Ben Fox (Your Mother & I, 2016) and it’s hard to imagine the film without it. The combination of Ben’s musical accompaniment and the softly spoken words of Judy and Jamie creates a poetic and intimate air that the viewer inhales and exhales until the last breath.

Kathleen Hepburn gives us a thoughtful and heartbreaking piece in her first feature length. It has drawn quite a lot of attention throughout the festival circuit, having snagged 10 awards for original writing, composition, editing, and more. Never Steady, Never Still is clearly worth watching as it provides an intimate look into grief, acceptance and a restrictive condition that has affected thousands across the globe.

Dir: Kathleen Hepburn

Scr: Kathleen Hepburn

Cast: Théodore Pellerin, Shirley Henderson, Nicholas Campbell

Prd: James Brown, Lori Lozinski, Carol Whiteman

DOP: Norm Li

Music: Ben Fox

Country: Canada

Year: 2017

Runtime: 112 mins

Never Steady, Never Still is in cinemas 20th April 2018