What initially struck me as an awful Radio 4 drama grew on me deeply. Perhaps my preconceptions got in the way, because Radiator is a profoundly powerful and sad drama, reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s Amour in its deep and unflinching portrayal of old age.
The late Richard Johnson appears in his final role as Leonard, the epitome of cantankerousness. Immobile, grumpy and sickly is only half the story – the house he shares with his wife Maria (Gemma Jones) is the most astonishing squalor. It’s easy to be in awe of the set designer, but it turns out this is the house, left untouched, once inhabited by the parents of first-time director Tom Browne before their deaths in 2011 and 2012. It’s perfectly on the edge between unbearable and believably inhabitable for a couple who have spent their lives between its walls, with scurrying mice downgraded to an irritant akin to a dripping tap.
Daniel Cerqueira plays the couple’s son (also Daniel), who first turns up in response to his mother’s desperate phone call telling him Leonard won’t get off the sofa – even she is finding his squalor overwhelming. Daniel calls his parents by their first names which ultimately seems rather fitting given the ambiguous yet definite distance between them. Initially it was Cerqueira’s dry delivery which gave the film that unconvincing radio drama quality, but like most things in the film, it grew on me and epitomised a son fed up with his parents’ decisions; reluctant, but necessarily doing the right thing and plodding on.
Radiator is strangely immersive in its sadness and squalor, which might be too bleak for some. It feels like it’s embedded in truth and experience, not afraid to show the realities of ageing in all of its uncomfortableness and awkwardness, particularly when relationships breakdown alongside physical health. At one point Daniel asks his mother why she ever married his permanently unpleasant father. “There were good times”, she insists, not quite convincingly. “You used to love his jokes”. “Beside, there’s no one quite like him”. Profoundly moving, Radiator gives plenty to ponder.
Review by David Rank
Radiator is out now in the UK. Rating 15 (UK). Running time 130 mins.