Don’t Worry About Me is the feature film debut of David Morrissey, one of Britain’s finest acting talents. Morrissey seems to have been plying his humble trade on the British airwaves forever. His “big break” was probably his portrayal of Gordon Brown in Stephen Frears ‘The Deal’; and since then he has starred in the superb ‘Blackpool’, and the internationally acclaimed ‘Red Riding’ trilogy (not to mention major motion pictures like ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.) I think it is fair to say that, despite his relative lack of experience behind the camera, the debut of such a well-disciplined, talented, and experienced actor (who can count the likes of Stephen Frears and Anand Tucker amongst his friends and associates) is a deservedly well-anticipated event.
The story revolves around “twenty something London lad” David (James Brough), who has skipped work and travelled to Liverpool in the hope of tracking down a one-night stand from the night before. His mission proves to be in vain and so, dejected, he gets drunk and sleeps rough for the night. After being robbed of his last few pennies, he enters a betting shop where a beautiful young employee, Tina (Helen Elizabeth), persuades him to bet on a particular dog. When her tip pays off, a refreshed and elated David begs her to take the rest of the day off and show him the sites of Liverpool. We follow this odd couple around for the rest of the day, as they cheer each other up and eventually learn to confide in each other. There is, of course, the predictable “downfall”, when one of them accidentally offends the other and all seems lost, but then they kiss and make up.
It is fair to say then, that this is not the most original or interesting film of the festival, and it hasn’t lived up to many of its expectations. I am at a loss to understand why such a talented actor, and a man who has worked with the likes of Frears and Tony Grisoni, would choose such a formulaic and unoriginal story for his debut feature. I appreciate that Morrissey is Liverpudlian, and that there was finance to be found there during the city’s term as European Capital of Culture, but there must have been a more interesting story with more depth of character out there somewhere. This is just a drab and uninspiring copy of Richard Linklater’s superb ‘Before Sunrise’. The characters wander around a few iconic sites talking about the nature of friendship and where their lives have gone wrong. But while Linklater’s film was fresh, dynamic, and insightful; in this film the character’s problems are mundane and their insights shallow and obvious.
There is something faintly charming about the story and the characters, and it did make me want to escape to the coast for a day or two, but it is distinctly uncinematic and would have faired much better as a Tuesday night drama on BBC3. For a British audience, I think it is difficult to completely write-off a film that harks back to the Woodfall ‘kitchen sink’ dramas and gritty, slightly romanticised Northern-centric films like ‘Billy Liar’ and ‘The Taste of Honey’. But I’m not sure that this film was consciously trying to build on those films, it just happens to share a location with them. It certainly lacks the sense of wonder and fantasy that those films managed to incorporate into their dull and depressing worlds.
One would have hoped that, at the very least, this film would have boasted some powerful performances due to the status of the director. Alas James Brough, who only got the part because he wrote and starred in the original play, is frankly amateur. I feel like a ratfink for being so negative, but that really is the only word to describe him; he isn’t actually terrible, just unprofessional and lacking in depth.
There isn’t even much to be said of Morrissey’s directing skills: the direction and camera work are as boring and one-dimensional as the story itself, and as drab and grey as the Liverpool skyline they are trying to capture. The opening section of the film is a whirlwind of short, meaningless scenes that fail to capture any emotion or atmosphere, and while the pace improves and allows the actors to find their footing, Morrissey never adds any visual flare to help the story along. A few seconds have been left open here and there for establishing shots of Liverpool, but if the filmmakers think this is enough to warrant the claim that it is “David Morrissey’s homage to his beloved city” then they are sorely mistaken.
The film is shot on video, I assume as a budgetary requirement, and this only serves to heighten the sense of cold detachment that abounds in the film. The footage lacks the softness of film, and while it might help to capture the atmosphere of a cloudy weekday in Liverpool, it fails to capture the emotions of the characters of the ‘feel’ of their world.
This film does have one saving grace however… Helen Elizabeth. Elizabeth is really a joy to watch for most of the film. Similarly to the lead actor, she takes a while to warm to the character and the script, which is awkward and stilted at first. But as the script and the direction and pace open up, so Elizabeth delves into the heart of the character and delivers a performance that many more esteemed actors would have failed to elicit from such a banal script. A scene in a confession box, where Elizabeth finally admits to having had an abortion, is really quite powerful, and almost justifies the making of the film on its own. I like to think that Morrissey had a helping hand here too: the performance has the measured and understated power and the beautifully controlled pace that Morrissey accomplishes so well, and if Helen Elizabeth has benefitted from his great talent and goes on to impress us with this quality of acting again and again, then maybe this film wasn’t a complete waste of time after all.