I was privileged to be at the premiere of this great movie at the Edinburgh International Film Festival tonight as guest of the co-producer, Simon Mallinson.
It’s a low budget tale with a big human story at its heart that is carried off with consumate ease by its eponymous lead, Peter Mullan.
Mullan has slowly but surely risen up the star league over many, many years, but few parts can have given him such screen time, such total empathy with the viewer and such character.
Most people associate Mullan with aggressive, gritty, hard Scottish character parts but this, although gritty and Scottish, is the complete antithesis of that. He plays a long term homeless man that still cares about his appearance and his ability to integrate into his own form of society – his “real family” as he calls it.
It opens on Hector carefully going through his morning ablutions, only for the camera shot to widen and reveal that these are taking part in the public toilet of a northern Scottish shopping centre. Such is the lot of a homeless person that cares about how they look.
It’s a road movie of sorts in that it follows the endless winter migrations of Mullen’s character, Hector, North and South across the UK, sleeping in the outdoors, public toilets, motorway service station car parks, shopping centres but more positively in a London Christmas homeless shelter where he has, over the years, become something of a cause celebre.
The tedium of his life is beautifully realised in the succession of lifts he gets from kind hearted (and possibly lonely) lorry and van drivers and the slow pace emphasises the sheer monotony of a life with no real purpopse.
And his situation, already bleak is heightened by the fact that every step he takes is contorted by some form of unexplained leg pain. Hector’s life is clearly far from a picnic.
But, despite this, what lies at the movie’s core is the milk of human kindness.
Each lift acquired, each gesture of charity (a free cup of tea, a shared meal, the tenderness of the London homeless centre’s manager, played beautifully by Sarah Solemani) adds weight to the fact that homeless people are more often than not castigated for their situation, assumed to be beggars, spongers, theives.
But, the truth is, each has a story, a reason, for their situation. And it’s this kindness that Hector elicits, dramatised in tiny vignettes again and again, that marks this movie out from the usual “it’s grim up north” docudrama that dwells constantly on the misery of life where one is cast aside from society.
It would be wrong to explain why Hector finds himself in his own situation, and for so long, so I won’t spoil it. It sort of doesn’t matter, but we are curious. What does matter is how Mullan crafts his perfectly rendered character into a lovable, sympathetic man and the absolute epitome of what makes people good.
To that end director and writer (based on a true story) Jake Gavin is to be congratulated on not only what is a decisive and confident debut but also a great human love story that potentially offers more to come.
Hector could come back, that’s for sure.