Dirs: Neil Hunter and Tom Hunslinger. UK. 2001. 99 min.

A middlebrow sensibility informs The Lawless Heart, a soft, mildly enjoyable melodrama about a web of tangled, constantly shifting relationships among the residents of a small, provincial English town. NeilHunter and Tom Hunslinger, who earlier made the 1995 gay film, Boyfriends, acquit themselves more honourably as writersthan directors of a serio-comedy whose chief novelty is its narrative structure. Indeed, in scope, ambition, and particularly productions values, The Lawless Heart fits perfectlythe small screen, which means that theatrical prospects outside the UK are rather dim. That said, the film will benefit from the current low profile of British cinema, as is evident by its inclusion in Locarno, Edinburgh and otherfestivals.

Though intended as a sharp contemporary story in which love, lust and loyalty are tested and stretched to the limit, The Lawless Heart is as pedestrian and literate as its title. The film's major asset is its script,which is divided into three segments, each focusing on a different protagonist.What unifies the yarn is certainly not the directors' vision, which is severelylacking, or the movie's visual style, which is also absent, but rather a themeand a set of characters whose fates change in an intriguing way as a result oftheir criss-crossing paths.

The point of departure for the threesections is the shocking death of a gay man named Stuart, and its far-reaching,unanticipated effect on the lives of his family members and clique of friends.Seen from three disparate but interconnected angles, each story reveals yetanother serio-comic dimension of modern relationships.

The centre of the first actis Dan (Nighy), a seemingly loving father and faithful husband, that is untilhe meets Corinne (Celaire), a charming French lady, whose honesty and"seize the moment" mentality contrast refreshingly with the moreconservative and hypocritical ethos of Dan, his wife Judy (Haddington), andtheir friends. While resisting Corinne, Dan succumbs to the advances of anotherwoman. Michelle, who treats him with oral sex. The main dilemma here, faced byDan and Judy (who is Stuart's sister), is whether to bestow Stuart's money onhis surviving companion, Nick (Hollander).

A gay restauranteur, Nickfinds himself befriended by a sparky and aggressive woman, Charlie (Smith),shortly after losing his boyfriend. At first, their relationship seems innocent-- just good friends -- until it takes a dramatic turn and includes a sexualencounter. Central conflict here is Nick's doubt over his sexual orientation,specifically, whether a hetero affair means a betrayal of the intimaterelationship he had with Stuart.

In the concluding andliveliest segment, the protagonist is Tim (Henshall), a carefree, charismaticfellow, who arrives in town after an eight-year absence, searching for"the something" that's still missing from his life. As in the otherchapters, a "femme fatale," in this case his neighbour Leah (Butler),provides the catalyst for an identity crisis and a new, more mature future,after realizing that Leah is still attached to her former boyfriend.

As they demonstrated intheir first feature, Boyfriends,in which three gay relationships were tested over one eventful weekend, Hunterand Hunslinger have commendable facility with fluent, lively dialogue andrealistic portraiture. Each of the dozen or so characters, male and female,comes across as a fully developed individual. What they still lack is commandof film's technical properties of film: camera movement, cutting, framing,pacing. Though decently acted by the entire ensemble, The Lawless Heart suffers from a flat direction and commonplace visualstyle - Hunter and Hunslinger don't benefit much from being filmmakersdirecting for the big screen. Atits current shape, The Lawless Heart is very much a writers' project, almost made-to-order for the tube.

Prod co: Overseas Filmgroup presentation of a Martin Popeproduction
Int'l sales
:Overseas FilmGroup
Exec prods
: FrancescaBarra, Steve Christian, Roger Shannon
: Martin Pope
: Tim Hunter and TomHunslinger
: Sean Bobbit
Prod des
: Lynne Whitehead
: Scott Thomas
: Adrian Johnston
Main cast
: Bill Nighy, TomHollander, Douglas Henshall, Clementine Celaire, Josephine Butler, EllieHaddington, Sukie Smith, Stuart Laing