by directors Lisa Barros D'Sa & Glenn Leyburn
This is a love story, as you might have guessed. Unlike many other love stories, it’s not about the beginning or the end of a relationship, but what happens in the middle, at its heart. Joan and Tom have been together most of their lives, through huge challenges and thousands of precious normal days. They’re not bored with each other. They’re not that couple sitting across from one another in a restaurant with nothing to say: they are funny and clever and they make each other laugh. They fancy each other, still, and annoy each other too. This is their rich everyday normality and they’ve learned the hard way how precious it is. They know that in any life, anything can happen. But in our story, for the first time, something is coming along that they can’t go through entirely together, as much as they try to, however much they love each other. Because it’s happening only in Joan’s body.
Love is ordinary only in that we find it everywhere, all over the place—it’s something most of us, if we’re fortunate, get to experience. That doesn’t mean it’s not also epic, wonderful, full of strife and glory, pain and joy. This is a film about how we will all, at some point, have our encounters with the grand themes and events of life, the heart shaking mysteries of life and death, and we’ll be doing it—again if we’re lucky—whilst we think about what to cook for dinner and when to put the garbage out. Life happens on the smallest and biggest of scales at once, and it was our challenge as directors to express that cinematically, to unlock the potency of the tiny moments of a shared life and show that in its minutiae through to its huge challenges, its normality can be glorious, unexpected, and worth celebrating on the big screen.
And we got to do it with two of the greatest actors in the world. In order to tell a story about the poetry of everyday moments, you need a cast who can fill those moments with deeply convincing life and force. Working with actors like Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville is the dream of a director’s life. And to bring them to the screen together for the first time—what a privilege. Their task was to create not only their own characters, but this shared entity they hold invisibly between them: a thirty-year marriage. We feel its reality through the distinctive wit and humour they share, the spark and rhythms of their conversation, the way they occupy their home and move through the world together—their sheer brilliant chemistry. The narrative progresses through sequences in which Joan and Tom are together, and others when they are separate, pulled apart by events. When they reconnect, it should feel it like a surge of electricity, a resumption of the life force, a relief. But there’s always the knowledge, too, that the next separation is up ahead.
The story of Ordinary Love is based in true events in the life of the screenwriter, Owen McCafferty, and his wife Peggy. They shared with us many personal details of their journey. We, the directors, have been married ourselves for a number of years. And then on set we were building, with Lesley and Liam, the lives and marriage of these characters, Joan and Tom. Those relationships and the rhymes between them only deepened our desire to create characters and a world that felt as authentic and unsentimentally drawn as possible. As well as the deepest emotional storytelling, we talked in detail on set about the habits of this couple’s life, the ordinary rituals of making a cup of tea: who puts the milk in, who makes the jokes, who butters the shared scone. Later in the film, you might not consciously observe when there’s a milk carton on the table instead of the usual china jug, but there’s perhaps a tiny missed step in the mind—things are going subtly awry in a life that’s little by little, escaping its usual safe patterns.
We’ve all experienced grief and loss. Most of us have come close to lives lived with cancer or serious illness, and seen at first hand the extraordinary, everyday courage with which unthinkable things are woven into normality alongside happiness, humour, and any other of the myriad aspects a life might contain. As filmmakers, we knew we had to tell an authentic, human version of such a story, not a sensationalised one. And we couldn’t have done it without the help of some incredible British National Health Service medical staff who gave up precious free time to help us create this world, many appearing in the film as our hospital staff. We appreciate their input so deeply. Some did it in memory of my father, Aires Barros D’Sa, who had worked with them as a surgeon. All of them wanted to see a story they recognised, one that reflects the lives of so many people who have crossed into this particular world. We couldn’t sentimentalise this story, but we did want to tell it joyfully. Because ultimately, for us, this is an uplifting film that celebrates the magnificence of human connection, a current that runs between two people, giving them both life.