There are certain films that are very much “slice of life”–portraying the existence of people at a particular point in time, without any direct larger theme–or, at least, a larger theme that is not immediately evident. One such film, in my view, is Jack and Sarah , a 1995 film starring Richard E. Grant and Samantha Mathis. The film is also notable for featuring three later Members of the Order of The British Empire in supporting roles: Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judy Dench and Dame Eileen Atkins.
The basic story surrounds a London solicitor, played by Richard E. Grant, who loses his wife during the birth of their first child, and must learn how to cope with unexpected parenting responsibilities. He can’t handle it, and goes on a bender, befriending one of the neighbourhood drunks, played by Ian McKellen. Grant is initially angry at everyone, focusing his rage on his family, including his mother, played by Judy Dench. His mother-in-law, played by Eileen Atkins, is having to cope with the death of her daughter, the recent death of her husband, and a son-in-law who seems incapable of handling the responsibilities of her new granddaughter, whom the son names “Sarah”, after his dead wife.
This may all seem to be soap opera pathos, but it is not. Enter Samatha Mathis as the caregiver for Sarah. Grant meets her when she is waitressing and he is taking Sarah out for one of the first times, following her birth. Meets Mathis again in a department store women’s washroom which, reflective of the times, is the only washroom with an infant change table. She is an American, visiting England. Grant hires her to help him raise Sarah. He thought it was a “live out” arrangement, whereas she arrives at his doorstep, moving her modest personal belongings by taxi, thinking it is a live in engagement. The story develops from there.
The way it develops is to explore various relationships. McKellen trying to get himself straight, as a second caregiver to Sarah. Eileen Atkins, as the widow and mother lost, trying to keep herself together, through a focus on Sarah. Judy Dench trying to do the same, though she is no widow and has lost no child.
It works, and it works over and over. My younger daughter has a particular appreciation for scenes of life. With particular films, she will want to see the same scene, over and over. This is one of them. Many of the scenes that she wants to see repetitively are found in the following clip:
The scene that does it for me in this clip is when Grant and Mathis, with Sarah, are walking in an English market, to the background of Lighthouse Family’s “Ocean Drive” . Nothing audible in the conversation between Mathis and Grant, but one senses a connection that is going to define the film. And it does.
I have been waiting over fifteen years for a sequel.
Postscript, July 10, 2012: Tried to get to the clip again, and found out that the Youtube account of the person who had posted Jack and Sarah had been terminated, for multiple copyright violations. Posting a movie in a series of clips would seem to be more promotional, without commercial intent. Still, the copyright holders (Warner Bros.) have their rights. What is left on Youtube is a fairly good promotional clip, that provides some insight into a very thoughtful and positive movie: