Enduring Love (15)

A fall from grace

No film I've seen this year begins as enthrallingly as Enduring Love. The director, Roger Michell, is working from the blueprint of Ian McEwan's 1997 novel, whose first chapter is a miniature of accelerating suspense and panic.

The scene is an idyllic summer's day, with two lovers picnicking in a field. Joe (Daniel Craig) is about to open a bottle of champagne for his girlfriend Claire (Samantha Morton) when the sunlight behind them is eerily occluded by a hot-air balloon bobbing along the ground, out of control. Inside the basket is a terrified boy, outside his grandfather desperately trying to drag the craft to earth; instinctively, Joe and several passers-by dash towards the stricken balloon to lend a hand. "We were running towards a catastrophe," writes McEwan, "which itself was a kind of furnace in whose heat identities and fates would buckle into new shapes."

Re-reading the chapter reminds you how much help the film-maker has already been given by McEwan's precise visualisation of the scene, including a steepling crane shot that winds us with the horror of a man falling to his doom. Michell nails the solid physicality of it very convincingly, but then is obliged to negotiate the trickier terrain of the psychological derangement that the accident has broached. Joe, feeling guilty about letting go of the rope to save his own life, has almost forgotten the man, Jed (Rhys Ifans), who was involved with him in the rescue attempt, but Jed hasn't forgotten Joe; indeed, he believes that some "connection" has been made between them, and starts hanging around outside Joe's flat and dogging him.

Michell and his screenwriter Joe Penhall have quite a thematic load to unpack here, and to do so while cranking up the sense of dread - the signature McEwan mood - requires an adroit handling of contrasts, that mingling of the ordinary and the ominous that Hitchcock mastered so well.

At first they hit the mood spot on. Joe, a college lecturer and proud rationalist, initially dismisses Jed as "harmless", a God-botherer who has trouble coping with what happened in that field, though it's Joe himself who checks the rope burns on his palms and obsesses over how the tragedy might have been averted. Only gradually does Jed's presence impinge - there's a brief quiver of trouble ahead when the camera peers through a crowd at Joe eating in a restaurant, and it suddenly dawns that its point of view is actually Jed's, watching him. Rattled, Joe turns on his stalker. "You're mad." "They said that about Jesus," Jed replies. "They also said it about a lot of mad people," Joe counters.

Where the film begins to founder is in its decision to close off the avenue of misunderstanding between Joe and Claire, who in the novel doesn't believe that Joe is being persecuted. This glitch in communication tossed overboard, she becomes merely the unfortunate witness to Joe's steepening decline from distracted to maniacal, shaken awake in the middle of the night to listen to Joe's gabbled theory about stalkers and curtain-twitching - a theory that will fly right over the head of anyone who hasn't read the book. The bleary look on Morton's face doesn't say "I'm worried about you", but "Please let me get to sleep, you hysterical bore", and you can't help sympathising. After all, it doesn't take a rationalist to know that Joe could best deal with Jed by contacting the police.

Instead, the film grinds through some humourless set-pieces that illustrate the story's theme - the thin partition dividing love from madness - yet draw one dramatic blank after another. The cat-and-mouse edginess feels morose and inert.

As has been the case with previous McEwan adaptations, the prospect of caring about any particular character is remote: I've almost entirely forgotten Campbell Scott in The Innocent, and the only frisson of pleasure I recall during The Comfort of Strangers was the moment Christopher Walken winked after punching Rupert Everett in the stomach.

Craig has the lean, muscled look of a model (or an actor), but doesn't seem a man plagued by ideas, and Joe's dark night of the soul looks more like a weakness for public tantrums. Ifans, who could be auditioning for the role of Wurzel Gummidge's weird cousin, has a gentleness that's initially endearing, but thereafter becomes as much of a pest to us as he is to Joe. Hopes are raised by the sight of Bill Nighy playing one of Joe's "normal" friends, only to be dashed as the film appears to lose track of him.

What's odd about Enduring Love is a nagging sense that it's actually quite respectful of the book. True, Joe's profession has been switched from science journalist to lecturer, and Claire, a literary academic in the novel, is awarded the more visually appealing job of sculptress. Yet in the plotting of a relationship that gradually splinters under stress, the film feels true to McEwan's ideas about the psychopathology of desire and the ambiguity of "enduring", which can mean both "everlasting" and "suffering". The difference, however, is palpable: this film is very unlikely to spook you.

Michell has to his credit the best Jane Austen adaptation of the last 10 years in Persuasion, and plainly doesn't feel cowed by the difficulty of translation from page to screen. Fearlessness isn't enough, unfortunately. No film this year has begun more enthrallingly - and few have ended so disappointingly.

Arts and Entertainment
Britain's Got Talent judges: Simon Cowell, Amanda Holden, Alesha Dixon and David Walliams

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral