A lonely septuagenarian struggles to conceal his ailing health from his doting wife, finding solace watching a local football team, his levels of fandom start to border on obsession.
Following the unforgettable blend of fantastical stylisation and harrowing realism of A Girl and Her Gun, the writer/director duo of Sam Dawe and Paul Holbrook have re-teamed for a truly moving story of loss and loneliness – accented with a hint of good old-fashioned Sunday league football. ‘Sunday Worship’ follows Jim (Brian Croucher), an elderly man slowly losing his friends and becoming brutally aware of how close to the end of his life he is. His twilight years, coloured by growing solitude and listlessness is compounded by the slow revelation of dementia.
Holbrook and Dawe offer up repeat proof of their ability to anchor an audience within the drama of a family in decline at the same time as weaving whimsical diversions, this time in the form of the life and death struggles of the Sunday league. Their practiced eye for humour is on display here as they capture every face, red with frustration and every pained half jog interspersed with an occasional spirited tackle.
We find ourselves surrounded by the unfit and the overweight, throwing themselves into an early morning game on an obscure muddy field as if locked in combat on the hallowed turf of Wembley itself. The effort sadly outweighs the results until the entrance of a mystery star player (Kai Dawe). Jim becomes intrigued by this on-the-pitch hero, reminiscent of an in-his-prime George Best, and increasingly finds himself attending more and more matches to see him in action.
Outside of Jim’s newfound passion, the deterioration of the rest of his life is laid bare. With Croucher brilliantly capturing Jim’s enchantment and new lease of life, it is left to Jim’s wife Rose (Annabel Leventon) to be the film’s foil for the amount of pain that Jim is actually in. Annabel Leventon brings a wonderful mix of sorrow and resolve to the film is she shoulders the fallout of her husband’s mental decline almost single handedly. Leventon’s performance comprises gentle compassion and patience and is the source of the audience’s anguish when it becomes more and more apparent that Jim needs her help.
A story such as this runs the risk of becoming saccharine, undercutting the drama with too much sentiment. To the credit of Holbrook and Dawe, not to mention the performances of Croucher and Leventon, Sunday Worship is approached with the right amount of sensitivity while still indulging in the stylistic flourishes that keep the material from becoming too stale. The pacing gives us time to appreciate and bond with our characters without dragging out the story, an accomplishment that pays off in spades once we reach the genuinely affecting denouement.
As with A Girl and Her Gun the tone shifts considerably between the almost ethereal feel of the protagonist’s whimsy and the muted harshness of their reality. And like A Girl and Her Gun Dawe and Holbrook succeed in ensuring the transitions between these stand out styles do not prove jarring for the audience.
Ultimately, the success of this film is its ability to confront dementia as well as the solitude that often becomes prevalent in our final years without shying away from its unfair brutality. Somehow in amongst this, we are not deprived of hope but instead are gently reminded that if we are willing to look around and ask for help, we are rarely ever truly alone.
Sunday Worship is equal parts heartbreaking and heartwarming and definitely worthy of a place on your watchlist.