There’s a scene early on in My Sailor, My Love where shut-in Howard and newly-hired housekeeper Annie are tending to Howard’s long-neglected apple trees. As they place the fruit into baskets, they both reach for the same one, their hands gently touching. Of course, they both pull away immediately, a bit shy but still yearning for a greater romantic connection.
You’ve seen a version of this interaction in so many romances before, to the point where seeing it again is more likely to induce groans than swoons. It’s normally a sign of something a bit more cloying; luckily for My Sailor, My Love, this moment is an outlier in an otherwise mostly genuine and worthwhile drama.
A former sailor now stuck on land after retirement, Howard (James Cosmo) spends most of his days by himself in his seaside house on the Irish coast. He doesn’t seem too keen on taking good care of himself — he washes his clothes in his kitchen sink next to his dirty dishes. His daughter Grace (Catherine Walker) does her best to care for him, but their incessant bickering gets in the way. In an effort to keep her sanity, Grace hires Annie (Bríd Brennan) to help Howard around the house. Just like with Grace, Howard doesn’t want Annie around, even going as far as sneeringly offering her more than Grace is paying her just to leave him alone. But soon enough, Annie begins to cut through his tough exterior and a romance begins to blossom.
It’s a little too cute of a setup for my liking, but from there, My Sailor, My Love turns into something more than just a movie about two people finding each other in their twilights. It’s certainly there in parts; we even get a moment where Howard and Annie share a heartfelt dance at a wedding and get their picture taken. A picture you can bet will make an appearance as the film barrels toward its weepy conclusion. At least, Brennan and Cosmo are charming and have nice chemistry together.
Yet, My Sailor, My Love remains fascinating as Grace remains a dominant force in their lives. Frustrated by years of mistreatment even though she’s the only one in their family willing to help Howard, Grace is perhaps only a few notches below foaming at the mouth in her contempt. Walker’s performance is really strong, especially when conveying that her exasperation for her dad is well-reasoned. She’s unsuccessfully going to therapy, and her marriage to her husband Martin (Aidan O’Hare) is becoming more strained by the moment.
The film continues to focus on the interplay between all three characters, but Grace and Howard’s dynamic is where Klaus Härö’s film works best. It adds a nice bit of acid to an otherwise sugary-sweet story. My Sailor, My Love becomes more of a psychological study as it fleshes out Grace’s character, and ultimately becomes a story about regret rather than love. Not to mention driving home the struggles of near-end-of-life care. Cosmo is fantastic at subverting the old curmudgeon who finds a new lease on life with his casual cruelty to Walker’s Grace. It recontextualizes the film’s more manipulative moments as something a little more complex.
The film’s primary setting — Howard’s cottage on the sea — is a great visual representation of Howard’s cognitive dissonance. He’s so close to the life he used and wants to have, but can’t have it. Although love is in the air, resentment is the film’s driving force.
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