Review: Be Still My Beating Heart

Assumedly not named after the 1987 song by Sting, Be Still My Beating Heart follows two sisters, who both exist dysfunctionally, each limited by illnesses affecting both body and mind, one physically and the other psychologically. Written and directed by Ruth Paxton, with Maxine Peake and Elysia Welch.

It takes very little time for this film to show its unsettling side, side might be an understatement because the whole film has an essence of the discomforting. There’s death lingering in every corner, not entirely surprising for a film with a protagonist who works with corpses for a living but it’s still just as disquieting. While the dead bodies and flashes of broken flesh and blood may hold that flame, it burns much stronger because of Maxine Peake’s relentlessly impressive acting skills, there isn’t a spot in the acting spectrum that she can’t reach, she’s equally as convincing as a strong and fervently independent character, as she is in this case of one who’s vulnerable, meek and it’s safe to say, a little disturbed.

After barely any time at all, you can feel the strong sense that there is a lot that’s not quite right going on here, even the simple act of picking up food from a chippy feels wrong. Quickly followed by Peake’s character walking home, a journey that would be the exact location that would come to mind if you hear that someone was murdered walking home alone in the dark. The location choice is ideal, a mist filled forest with slight openings to get that fantastic visual of being lost and vulnerable, from a cinematography point of view it’s a classic choice that will always improve any scene. The camera work consistently makes you feel too close to the action, in a way that heightens the discomfort and continues going strong all throughout the film, there’s no moment to be found where you should feel relaxed.

If you removed the laptop that they use in a few scenes, the film would almost feel like it could have taken place at any time in the last twenty or so years, it doesn’t feel old fashioned necessarily but more so that it doesn’t need to be connected to any particular point in time. Especially when you look at the sisters’ flat, the décor looks as though some of it hasn’t been changed in at least twenty years and there’s a perturbing quality to that. Adding all of which to the fact that these women aren’t really living, the stench of death never leaves because Peake’s character is clearly stuck in an infinite number of days repeating the same actions, no real social life or hobbies or excursions out of the bubble that she exists in, one that has pulled in her sister (Welch) because of her physical limitations. Amplified by the fact that other than each other, you only actually see one other interaction, which is purely Peake buying chips and she is extremely awkward and uncomfortable even in that very brief moment.

It’s certainly best not to go into this film expecting anything rosy or cheerful, there’s only death and pain to be found. Maxine Peake’s performance is yet another role that she embodies with ease and terrifically draws you in, even without needing to have sympathy or a like for the character. Elysia Welch supports very well and does a great job of being the push that gets Peake’s character closer to the edge, trying to force her out of the bubble she’s built so well, as she tries to desist her sister’s desire to have more. The story itself is fairly slow going for a short film that clocks in at over 20-minutes, there isn’t a great deal that happens but it’s captivating and the shots in the forest are done beautifully. Having had such an intense grasp on the dark and disturbing, it will be very interesting to see Ruth Paxton‘s upcoming comedy-drama feature The Other Prince of Wales.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

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