James McAvoy stars as He, and Sharon Horgan as She in Together. Stephen Daldry digs deep into the lockdown.
Stephen Daldry’s Together, the first mainstream movie expressly about the COVID lockdown, takes its title from the annoying public-service announcement “We’re in this together.” That misery-loves-company plea hides the surrender-to-government overreach that has taken place in many private middle-class homes. Screenwriter Dennis Kelly dramatizes it through the close-quarters friction between a London couple (James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan) who are no longer in love but cohabit for the sake of their school-age child. Their bickering shows exhaustion as much as familiarity. Most importantly, they act out that good-sense corrective: “No, we’re only in this simultaneously.”
Daldry’s quick and clean production could have been about Brexit. Instead, the reality of COVID is a presence though not the film’s subject. It’s “this thing” that weighs on the couple’s domestic contract and compounds their troubles. Over the course of a year — from the March 24, 2020, beginning of Britain’s lockdown to the start of mass vaccinations and social reopening on March 21, 2021, Daldry keeps a firm, multiangled focus on the pair as their household temperaments evolve.
At first Together feels like a “two-hander” stage play, but Daldry (best known for the film and stage versions of Billy Elliot) never gets claustrophobic; moving from vestibule to the fuchsia-walled kitchen is all the opening-up needed. Daldry’s method cries “theater” owing to the perfectly reasonable fact that right now there is no theater in the classic sense of a communal activity gathering performers and audiences to share the artful expression of experience. Even before COVID, millennial theater folk had turned propagandistic and hive-minded, with playwrights, producers, and performers all preaching to the choir.
So Daldry breaks through the proscenium pretense to let his characters talk to the camera (us). And this cinematic, visual intimacy is preferable to watching Brady Bunch–like, Zoom-style squares. It emphasizes intermingled political points of view: McAvoy’s character is Tory, Horgan’s is Labour. Daldry achieves latitude by balancing invective with humor in confrontations that are always honest and
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