When it was first announced, the movie that would become Sometimes Always Never was called Triple Word Score in a fun nod to the prominence of the board game Scrabble throughout the story. The original title arguably would’ve served for a better – and indeed more memorable – idea of what this film is. It’s a delightful, charming slice of British quirk, helped over the line by Bill Nighy in full national treasure mode.
Nighy, complete with a slightly ropey, Cilla-esque Scouse accent, is Alan, whom we meet on a trip with his son Peter (Sam Riley). It soon becomes clear that they have gone along to identify a body, which may or may not be Peter’s missing brother, Michael – referred to often as the “prodigal son” in this family. Alan soon becomes convinced that an online Scrabble player, whose moves resemble Michael’s idiosyncratic style, might mean his son is alive.
It’s sometimes a little difficult to wade through the treacle of Sometimes Always Never, which ladles on its stark, primary colours and its offbeat tone in a way that is occasionally oppressive. For the most part, however, this is a delectably weird and sweet world to inhabit for a couple of hours, as viewers will expect from the mind of Doctor Who scribe Frank Cottrell Boyce. Director Carl Hunter has a clear stylistic vision that feels uncompromising, even as it occasionally struggles against the excesses of its candy-coloured, saturated take on Britain and some slightly over-bearingly whimsical word definitions that arrive on screen.
There’s an unusual sense of humour to the film, which fits nicely with the slightly aloof persona Nighy often conjures on screen. Even as his accent judders, his performance is a delight, whether he’s playing serious or delivering deadpan punchlines. An early game of Scrabble, in which Alan plays an unsuspecting hotel guest portrayed by Blackadder star Tim McInnerny, is brilliantly judged as Alan talks down his ability while staking £200 on the game, only to play a series of mad, unconventional words.
That scene sets the tone for a movie that manages to exercise real control over its visual and comedic feel, just about hitting emotional punches when it needs to as well. Nighy and Riley are excellent, with the latter conveying his turmoil as a man who has always been second best to a sibling who may or may not even be alive. Only Alice Lowe, playing the wife of Riley’s character, is somewhat squandered – yet another example of her being given a somewhat nothing role, despite her incredible talent.
Sometimes Always Never is always enjoyable, particularly when it dials up the endearing oddity of its setting, but it’s occasionally all a little too much. Audiences without a high quirk tolerance will likely be put off by Hunter’s unique world, but those willing to be taken for the ride will find plenty to tickle the funny bone, as well as another gem of a performance from the unstoppable Nighy – an actor we’re frankly lucky to have.
Dir: Carl Hunter
Scr: Frank Cottrell Boyce
Cast: Bill Nighy, Sam Riley, Alice Lowe, Tim McInnerny, Jenny Agutter, Alexei Sayle
Prd: Roy Boulter, Alan Latham, Sol Papadopoulos
DOP: Richard Stoddard
Music: Edwyn Collins, Sean Read
Run time: 91 mins
Sometimes Always Never is in UK cinemas from 14th June.