Director: John Alexander
Cast: David Morrissey, Sheridan Smith, Olivia Colman, Sean Maguire
Plot: A tired family man (Morrissey) bumps into a weary wife-to-be (Smith) on the 7.39 train to London and they clash. However, soon realising that they must share the same train to work every morning, they connect and soon engage in a dangerous, unpredictable friendship.
I had no intention of watching this made for TV film. I got home from work and collapsed on the sofa, just as my parents started watching a BBC two-part movie called the 7.39. I stayed on that sofa until the very end. Perhaps the best compliment I could give this film is that it pulled me in straight from the beginning and was so engaging I had to stick around until the very end.
Carl Matthews is a middle-aged man, stuck in a dull job, where his cruel employer has him fire struggling fathers when their home lives momentarily get in the way of their work. Sally Thorn is in a happy relationship with her fiancé, with the small exception of cold feet as their wedding day approaches. The hardest part of their day is the two hour train ride to work, where they have to deal with delays, grumpy passengers and crowds. It is here that the two of them meet and, at first, clash. However, as they realise that they will be spending every morning of the foreseeable future together, they slowly make friends. Before long, they find themselves attracted to one another and, despite having great family lives waiting for them at home, find solace in each other, as the worst part of their day becomes the part of the day they look forward to the most.
The best thing about 7.39 is how natural everything is. This is essentially a two hour story about a man and a woman having an affair, cheating on their respective partners. It is a tough sell to make us care for these characters, but a brilliant script from author David Nicholls handles the story well and we never end up disliking either of the characters here. I complained about before how a movie has never quite captured the essence of a crush, but 7.39 absolutely hits the nail of the head. I totally got the idea that their days were improved the moment they saw each other, smiles creeping onto their faces. I recognised that sense of misery when one of them isn’t on that particular train, the unwritten agreement that they are meant to be meeting up broken. Many critics have complained that this film was unrealistic, but I am beginning to think that they have no idea what they are talking about, because this film is one of the most enjoyable, and realistic, portrayals of an affair I have seen broadcasted on both TV and film.
The first half of the film simply enjoys the slow pull of their friendship. The brief meetings on the train evolving into sharing a drink. The farewells subtly getting more intimate. For me, this is the best part of the movie. You simply just enjoy spending time in these brief, fleeting moments of happiness, almost as if you are a part of the crush yourself. The humanity in the characters helps here, because it never feels like they are doing anything bad. Carl’s wife, played well by Olivia Coleman (although kept to the background, until the final act), is never portrayed as a negative character either. As Carl tells us near the end, his unfaithful acts had nothing to do with her; she was never a part of that equation. Perhaps one small flaw with 7.39 is that it couldn’t really pull off the same trick with Sean Macguire’s character. While I did enjoy a bloke having the role of clingy and obsessive fiancé rather than a female for once, I felt that he was such a tough character to like, we all wanted Sally to jump ship on him and could never quite muster up much pity for the character, like we could for Carl’s family.
The performances from David Morrissey and Sheridan Smith are outstanding. Everything feels just so natural, from the pillow talk right down to the way they interact with strangers on a train. David Morrissey is, of course, masterful in any role he steps into, and here, he is no different. Most actors get under-used, when their role asks them to be as normal as possible (see any male lead actor in a Nicholas Sparks movie adaption), but it empowers Morrissey here. It is a testament to his abilities as an actor that he can maintain this presence, when appearing as ordinary as possible. Then we have Sheridan Smith, who is fantastic here, better than anything else I have seen her in. We can feel the weight of this secret relationship crushing her, especially near the end of the movie. She captures that normal girl feeling, yet at the same time, we totally understand how a family man could fall in love with her so easily. She simply brings so much energy to the proceedings and is easily to get along with, even when the affair gets serious and dark.
We are enjoying the fleeting moments so much, the second half, where they actually make love and have to deal with the consequences of their actions, feels less impressive. It’s not bad cinema, far from it, but we were enjoying the pleasant drifting nature of the story so much, we don’t want the reality of consequences to happen. The main problem here is that Nicholls has to commit to a direction to take the story, and while the ending he picks is almost definitely the best one, it is a sharp change in pace. The story gets more clichéd, which is actually an important part of the story, as the whole point of 7.39 is humanising the cheaters of every romance movie ever, so it is good seeing these clichéd love story moments through the eyes of the ‘bad guys’. The love they share for each other slowly becomes shame. Their meetings turn into an addiction, just as destructive as alcohol or drugs. David Morrissey, in particular, portrays the role of an ‘addict’ really well.
This is not the kind of film I would usually watch, but I am so glad I took a chance outside of my comfort zone, because 7.39 is a terrific story. David Nicholls takes a tired story and injects a new perspective and fresh life into it.
Final Verdict: The first half is fantastic and while the second half has to take upon itself to handle the darker side of things, overall it is a well directed, beautifully written and superbly acted film.