Years after the critical acclaim of his hard-hitting directorial debut Tyrannosaur (2011), Paddy Considine returns to our screens with his equally gruelling follow-up Journeyman (2017) and this time he’s centre stage as middleweight boxing champion Matty Burton. After a life-altering fight, the film documents his journey to recovery whilst exploring the immediate impact of such drastic changes. But whilst attempting to explore topics of masculinity, domestic abuse and rehabilitation like his previous release, there’s something noticeably missing from Considine’s second cinematic effort and the film never quite packs the right kind of punches. In fact, it masterfully undoes all prior success achieved in Tyrannosaur‘s progressive narrative.
Before committing to life-long retirement with his newborn daughter Mia and wife Emma (Jodie Whittaker), Burton is determined to solidify his international championship title with one last fight against the much younger and controversial fighter Andre Bryte (Anthony Welsh). After training hard, he rightfully wins and triumphantly carries the title home to join his array of gold belts on the shiny mantlepiece. But all is too perfect, with Considine carefully building the suspense throughout Burton and Emma’s quiet celebration at their pristine showroom of a home. As expected, their world is suddenly brought to a dramatic standstill when he soon collapses as a direct result of delayed head trauma and is rushed to the hospital. Upon waking from a brief but critical coma, his health has drastically declined. But his beloved coaching team and trusted friends have abandoned the ex-fighter, leaving a struggling Emma to bring her husband back to health alone. Now suffering chronic memory loss and a speech impediment, a long journey of physiotherapy awaits.
Although, it isn’t just the physical issues related to Burton’s fight which cause problems for the family. There’s another noticeable change which takes precedence: he has developed a violent, volatile temperament that is unpredictable and highly dangerous. First apparent when he smashes a mug of tea from Emma’s hands, she is left in a state of shock as Matty repetitively bangs his fists against the kitchen doors. Perceiving this to be part and parcel of his recovery, it is apparent she calmly forgives his behaviour as a one-off. Scenes later, whilst helping her husband relearn how to shave, he aggressively and forcefully pushes the female away. Escalating in severity over a short time period, Emma finally leaves the family home with Mia when both she is violently struck in the nose and Matty risks his child’s safety by placing her inside a washing machine. Now, the real struggle begins for the fragile and broken man; he must fix himself – both physically and mentally – to win back his family and resolve past trauma.
Many people will view Considine’s directorial return as a powerful exploration and tender portrait of recovering masculinity. Undeniably, this is what Journeyman is to a certain extent: we follow Matty’s path from a champion boxer to a suicidal, broken man to a triumphant symbol of healing. But, simultaneously, the film is also another painful reminder of how women are continually used as playing boards for men’s battles in such narratives. Why does Emma have to be violently struck – thrice – and little Mia placed inside a washing machine to silence her incessant screams? Why is Matty shown drawing blood from his wife’s nose whilst she continually cares and helps her husband? From a basic narrative perspective, the answer is simply that Burton needs to push Emma away to fuel his recovery, a classic example of a ‘win-her-back’ story. But, this doesn’t resolve the inherently misogynistic attitude displayed in Considine’s film that views women as a necessary tool in fixing a broken man. Whittaker doesn’t need to take the brunt of Burton’s physical and mental ailments, there was no narrative necessity in repeatedly showing aggressive violence towards Emma – all could have easily been showcased without a woman being hit. When females are attacked or abused purely for the narrative development of males, how can the film possibly be viewed in a positive light? Redefining and reimagining masculinity should never be showcased at the expense of women’s health – either physical or mental – and most definitely isn’t the formula for a successful or enjoyable film.
Dir: Paddy Considine
Scr: Paddy Considine
Cast: Paddy Considine, Jodie Whittaker, Paul Popplewell, Tony Pitts, Anthony Welsh
Prd: Diarmid Scrimshaw
DOP: Laurie Rose
Music: Music Supervisor – John Boughtwood
Runtime: 92 minutes
Journeyman is in selected cinemas on the 30th.