For a poignant picture of a devoted and long-married couple you would be hard pushed to find a more perfect match than acting doyens Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren.
In The Leisure Seeker Sutherland, now a handsome 82, portrays retired English lecturer John Spencer, his once-sharp intellect dulled by intermittent dementia.
Mirren, 10 years his junior, is John’s outspoken wife Ella, sympathetic and understanding but constantly frustrated by his fading memory and changed personality.
With their two adult children (Christian McKay and Janel Moloney) planning to put them into retirement homes, the couple shock them by taking off in their aging camper van, dubbed The Leisure Seeker.
John has long been a passionate admirer of Ernest Hemingway, and Ella has decided to take him on a long-planned visit to Hemingway’s home in Key West. John’s mind may be dimming but he has not forgotten how to drive the camper in which they have had many happy holidays.
When they telephone to reassure their worried children they find it hard to convince them that they are safe. “This just something I really want to do with your father,” Ella tells them.
Their adventures on this unlikely road trip are sometimes funny and often predictable; but the strength of the film is the depiction of the deep bond between the two, their pleasure in shared memories and their dependence on each other.
One minute John appears to be his old self: “I am so glad to be back on the road again,” he says.
Next minute, at a campsite, he loses it: “Where are we – we’re not home!” he exclaims. “No, hon, this is Pennsylvania,” says Ella. “What the dickens are we doing in Pennsylvania?” he asks.”
He is delighted when one of his former students recognises him in the street, and even remembers her name, but he cannot remember his own children.
When they find themselves in the midst of a wedding party, John happily dances with the guests but then panics when he cannot find Ella.
“Promise me something – don’t ever leave me,” he begs.
In a rare moment of clarity he tells her he would rather kill himself than be sent to a nursing home. Just put the shotgun in his hand, with his finger on the trigger, and go outside, he says.
Italian director Paolo Virzi, making his English-language debut, has delivered an uneven but touching film about life, love and caring.
The Leisure Seeker is now showing at Event Cinemas.
Watch the trailer…