Lilting – film review

The past looms up in Lilting, a deft minor-key British drama from director Hong Khaou. It’s all around us in the sheltered accommodation that provides the setting, exquisitely done out 1950s-style to remind the residents of former lives. Among them is Junn (Pei-pei Cheng), a Chinese widow for whom England and its language have always been a mystery, and whose son Kai has recently died. The loss pares her away – though her sorrow is relieved by a Casanova in slacks (Peter Bowles). They kiss in lieu of common language. Enter Richard (Ben Whishaw), the friend of Kai she never liked – really, though she didn’t know, his boyfriend. Would she and her beau, he asks, like a translator?

At its sweetest and neatest, all this suggests a Hollywood group-hug remade by Londoners of good taste and low budget. Yet Khaou is honest as well as elegant, and the film rarely cloys. Cheng employs a medley of sadnesses – mournful, wounded, defensive – as well as a wide grin, while Whishaw quietly vibrates with grief, desperate to be decent. Lilting can feel like an airtight glass box, but the figures inside it are vividly alive.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.