Maybe this should become a tradition: Once every 55-plus years, people from Liverpool make a terrific movie called “Help.”
The first was in 1965, by the Beatles; it’s a delight that someone could watch over and over.
And the second debuted on British TV in September and reaches an American streamer (www.acorn.tv) on Monday (Jan. 31). It’s brilliantly crafted … and difficult to watch even once.
This “Help” was filmed mostly in Liverpool. It projects that city’s working-class feel, with Liverpool natives as its stars – Stephen Graham, Ian Hart and, especially, Jodie Comer (shown here).
At 28, Comer is already big with moviegoers. She was the female lead in “Free Guy” and “The Last Duel” and appeared briefly (in a flashback, as Rey’s mother) in “The Rise of Skywalker.”
Mostly, however, she’s known for the cable hit “Killing Eve,” winning a best-actress Emmy. Now comes another stunning performance.
She’s Sarah, who (in a family tradition) made a mess of her early life. But she’s taken some courses and is ready for her first job in a nursing home. She meets the overwhelmed manager (Hart) and Tony (Graham, 48), a nice guy with early-onset Alzheimer’s.
When the job gets tough, her mother suggests she quit. Sarah refuses. “I’m good at this,” she says … reflecting the surprise of someone who’s never been told she’s good at anything.
But her world is changing. There was joy at a nursing-home party in Christmas of 2019; a few months later, as COVID surges, the world changes. One scene – 26 minutes, filmed in one take, with Sarah as the only person who arrived at work – is a classic.
Under director Mark Munden and writer Jack Thorne, each character is neatly understated … so much so that we’re surprised when the film takes a melodramatic twist in its final minutes. Even then, the performances are beautifully restrained.
Comer is so subtle that we never get a sense that there’s an actor at work. The same is true of Graham, Hart and the others.
Americans usually only see Graham as bad guys – Al Capone in “Boardwalk Empire,” Tony Pro in “The Irishman,” Barabbas in “The Passion.” They also saw him in the fifth season of “Line of Duty,” as an undercover cop who turned into a gang leader.
That happened to be the final season that “Line of Duty” was on Acorn, before switching to Britbox. Often, Acorn is better-known for light dramas – “Doc Martin,” “Murdoch Mysteries,” “My Life is Murder,” “Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries” and more. It has just finished three weeks of “Queens of Mystery” movies; on Feb. 7, it starts three weeks of “Agatha Raisin” mysteries.
But in the midst of all that fun and fluff, it has a deeply serious film. Tough to watch and tougher to ignore, “Help” is a winner.