Andrew Scott and Paul Mescal anchor Andrew Haigh’s heartbreakingly pure 1980s drama

All Of Us Strangers

Source: Searchlight Pictures

‘All Of Us Strangers’

Dir/scr: Andrew Haigh. UK/US. 2023. 105mins.

One lonely night, in his flat in a near-empty Ballardian tower block on the edge of London, screenwriter Adam (Andrew Scott) is surprised by an unexpected visit from his downstairs neighbour, Harry (Paul Mescal). It’s a fleeting, unsatisfactory encounter. Yet it is intriguing enough to unsettle the glum equilibrium of Adam’s life. Around the same time, Adam starts to revisit his childhood home where, mysteriously, he finds his parents still alive and the same age they were at the time of their deaths, more than thirty years before. The latest from Andrew Haigh is an exquisitely melancholy fantasy-infused meditation on loss and isolation. A luxuriantly sad and skin-tinglingly sensual gay romance, it is propelled by a killer combination of 80s queer pop and a pair of devastating performances from Scott and Mescal. 

A luxuriantly sad and skin-tinglingly sensual gay romance

Haigh’s elegantly elliptical screenplay was adapted from a 1987 Japan-set novel, titled ’Strangers’, by Taichi Yamada. |t follows another, albeit more straightforward literary adaptation, Haigh’s last film Lean On Pete, based on the novel by Willy Vlautin. Thematically however, if not tonally, Strangers has more in common with an earlier work: there’s something of the candour and the search for an authentic connection that defined Haigh’s breakthrough film, Weekend. The likely positive word of mouth, plus a buzzy cast – Mescal and Scott are joined by Claire Foy and Jamie Bell in the roles of Adam’s parents – plus a nomination-friendly release slot in December, suggests that this should be a picture that will figure prominently in awards conversations over the coming months.

There’s something purgatorial about Adam’s existence, rattling around his stylish but chilly apartment with its dead-eyed windows and panoramic views of the cityscape. He’s a writer whose latest project requires him to re-engage with his painful past. Listening to music from his childhood – Frankie Goes To Hollywood, The Fine Young Cannibals – and sifting through the few treasures he managed to retain, he attempts to manoeuvre past something that could be writer’s block or might just be the soul-crushing sadness that rises in him daily. Few actors can convey such depths of pain with just a smile as Scott, and he uses this skill to particularly devastating effect. Even the cautious hint of happiness that starts to creep into his expression when he spends time with Harry comes with a shadow. 

Meanwhile, the encounters with his parents take on a different charge. Adam needs them to know who he is, but winces at their unreconstructed 1980s assumptions about his sexuality. “They say it’s a lonely life,” says his mother. And Adam, perhaps the loneliest person in London, is forced to argue that if indeed he is isolated, it’s not because he’s gay. There’s a parallel, in the reclaimed moments with a lost parent, with Joanna Hogg’s The Eternal Daughter. But while Hogg’s film permitted itself a wistful streak of humour, All Of Us Strangers taps into a well of sadness that is almost immeasurably deep. 

All of this chimes, first and foremost, because of the quality of Haigh’s gorgeous, perceptive screenplay. But there’s a harmony in the craft here that complements and elevates the writing. Sensual editing effortlessly guides us through the permeable barrier between the living and the dead; lithe and instinctive photography captures Adam’s isolation even when he’s in a crowd. And then there’s the use of reflections and mirror images, not least the matching shots that bookend the film at the very start and the very end, and which use the London sky to wrenchingly poignant effect.

Production companies: Blueprint Films, Film4 Searchlight pictures

Distribution: Searchlight Pictures

Producers: Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Sarah Harvey

Cinematography: Jamie Ramsay

Editing: Jonathan Alberts

Production design: Sarah Finlay

Music: Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch

Main cast: Andrew Scott, Paul Mescal, Jamie Bell, Claire Foy