Dir/Scr: Tom Hunsinger & Neil Hunter UK. 2007. 104mins

Tom Hunsinger and Neil Hunter have built a reputation for making exceedingly engaging, increasingly polished ensemble pieces on the vagaries and vulnerabilities of the human heart. Despite critical acclaim for Boyfriends (1996) and especially The Lawless Heart (2001), they have yet to make a strong impression on the box-office.

Gentle romantic comedy Sparkle has well-drawn characters, emotional depth and charismatic performances but it still seems likely to suffer a similar fate. It lacks that little extra something that might persuade audiences to venture into a cinema, especially in a crowded UK domestic market.

Sparkle may be superior to a good deal of small screen fare but it does feel very similar to the kind of material that is a regular fixture on British television. Modest theatrical returns should be followed by good word of mouth that will allow it to connect with a bigger audience on the subsequent dvd release, a result likely to be repeated internationally.

Underlining his status as one of the promising new faces of British cinema, Shaun Evans brings great charm to the role of Sam. Anxious to escape his clinging mother Jill (Lesley Manville), he wangles a flat in London from kindly Vince (Bob Hoskins) and winds up working as a wine waiter. He really falls on his feet when he meets businesswoman Sheila (Stockard Channing). Sheila takes him to her bed and gives him a job as her personal assistant. Just when his future seems set, he starts to fall in love with the mysterious Kate (Amanda Ryan).

Warm-hearted and witty, Sparkle boasts some sharp lines and strong performances that help to keep things credible as the plot traces the unexpected family connections and twists that unite the central characters. Stockard Channing is a typically commanding presence as Sheila, capturing both her outward toughness and inner fragility. Hoskins gives one of his sweetest performances in a long while as the gentle romantic Vince and the slow advance of his relationship with Manville's Jill feels worthy of a separate movie. Manville is spot-on with her character's mixture of bossiness and concern and her appealing vocal performances makes Jill's aspirations to a professional singing career entirely credible.

Sparkle lacks the tight plotting and atmospheric locations that made The Lawless Heart such a treat but it does highlight Hunsinger and Hunter's ability to create rounded, recognisable characters. There is a depth and authenticity to these individuals that is rare in romantic comedy and that is ultimately what makes this tale of secrets and lies so consistently engaging. Individual technical contributions blend into an unassuming production although the bustling, boisterous musical score seems a little out of step with the film's more thoughtful tone.

Production Companies
Magic Light Pictures
Isle Of Man Films
Baker Street
UK Film Council
North West Vision
BBC Films

International Sales
Bankside Films

Martin Pope
Michael Rose

Executive producers
Steve Christian
Keith Evans
Steve Jenkins
Christopher Moll
Paul Trijbits

Sean Van Hales

Production design
Cristina Casali

Martin Brinkler

Adrian Johnston

Main cast
Stockard Channing
Shaun Evans
Bob Hoskins
Lesley Manville
Anthony Head