Dramatic accounts of autism seem to always depict those on the spectrum as possessing some sort of genius. When working with special needs children you quickly realise how this is far more the exception than the rule. It must make it even more difficult for parents and people with autism who are not exceptional when everyone assumes they ought to be thanks to film and television. However, that being said, taken on its own merits, X + Y is a marvellously affecting drama thanks to some
Asa Butterfiled stars as Nathan, a maths prodigy with Aspergers. In flashbacks we see how close he was to his father, who died next to him in a car accident when he was young. He is brought up by his mother (the ever delightful Sally Hawkins) and later tutored by Humphreys (Rafe Spall), also once a maths prodigy but having never fulfilled his potential partly due to crippling MS, which Spall portrays with a sorrowful humour. Humphreys introduces Nathan to the possibility of entering the International Mathematical Olympiad and a trip to China. It’s the relationships between the characters which is so moving: the shared loneliness between Humphreys and Nathan’s mum and the difficulties they have connecting with Nathan. Asa Butterfield is almost unrecognisable from the little boy in Hugo just 4 years ago and you can see he’s obviously destined for big things, providing a delicate and heart wrenching performance.
This is Morgan Matthews’s first forray into drama, having taken inspiration from his own BBC documentary about the maths Olympiad. In the actual documentary, Nathan’s character gets married at the age of 18 to the young Chinese mathemtician he falls for, something Matthews thought would be “too cheesy”, which flies in the face of anyone who might accuse the more muted (but nevertheless sweet) ending of this film of being just that. X + Y succeeds in making mathematics beautiful, added together with a string of naturalistic, gorgeous performances.
Review by David Rank
X + Y is out on 13/03/15 in the UK. Running time 111 mins. Certificate 12A (UK).