Monday, 04 January 2016

Hector

This tale of a homeless man with family secrets has plenty of heart

Written by Barry Norman
Barry-Norman-colour-176Until this film I hadn’t realised that homeless people – especially Scottish homeless people – used the ‘F’ word so often. Particularly in the early, Scottish, part of the story the 'F' word was sometimes the only one I could understand. But don’t let that put you off because, though it lacks dramatic tension, this is an unusual, warmly sincere film with plenty of heart, skilfully held together by Peter Mullan as the eponymous Hector.

Hector is old, bearded and homeless. All his belongings are packed into one wheelie bag. He walks painfully with the aid of a crutch, sleeps wherever he can and does his ablutions in public lavatories. He is clearly an articulate, thoughtful man, not a drinker or a druggie, and quite early on we learn that some 15 years earlier he had vanished, without a word of explanation, from the lives of his nearest and dearest.

Now it’s Christmas time and he’s on his way from Glasgow to the London shelter where he habitually spends the festive season. But this year, probably because he is unwell and has intimations of mortality, he decides to re-establish contact with his sister and brother.

As someone says, ‘Christmas, the time to be wi’ family’, but Hector’s family doesn’t want him. In Newcastle his brother-in-law, Stephen Tompkinson, gives him the bum’s rush and so he proceeds to London to find his brother and there receives a much warmer welcome This celebration of friendship and community offers Peter Mullan (above left) possibly his best film role ever from Sarah Solemani, the young woman in charge of the shelter.

This is a film – a very laudable effort by first-time director/writer Jake Gavin – that takes its time, particularly in the revelation of the circumstances that caused Hector’s mysterious disappearance. And when it comes, that revelation, though credible, is a bit of a dramatic anticlimax. The build-up leads you to expect rather more.

But against that the picture Gavin builds of what life is like for the homeless is always fascinating. He doesn’t tell us anything much if at all about the causes of homelessness, merely showing the hardships the victims suffer and how they depend on the kindness of strangers. An Indian shopkeeper saves Hector from a mugging; a black car-owner offers him a much-needed lift and young white women in coffee shops give him food.

Life on the streets, we swiftly learn, is tough but not ruthless. One of Hector’s fellow wanderers freezes to death overnight and though the man’s girlfriend runs away, Hector stays to call the police and an ambulance. As much as anything else this is a celebration of humanity, friendship and the importance of community, especially to the underprivileged, and such things are rare in the movies these days.

Essentially what we have here is a modestly budgeted road movie, splendidly photographed by David Raedeker, with small but important contributions from the likes of Tompkinson, Gina McKee and Keith Allen. If in the end it doesn’t take us anywhere unexpected it’s satisfying to watch and provides the alwaysdependable Mullan with possibly the best film role of his career.



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