Review: Loving Highsmith

Written and directed by Eva Vitija, based on Patricia Highsmith‘s personal writings and accounts of her family and lovers, the film casts new light on the famous thriller writer’s life and oeuvre, permeated by themes of love and its defining influence on identity. Starring: Gwendoline Christie, Annina Butterworth, Maren Kroymann, Marijane Meaker, Courtney Coates Blackman, Judy Coates, Dan Coates, Monique Buffet, Tabea Blumenschein, Kaey Kihl and Malte Göbel.

Patricia Highsmith is responsible for not only great works of fiction but many of them have then been turned into iconic pieces of cinema from Carol to The Talented Mr. Ripley to Strangers on a Train and more. With this film Eva Vitija pays tribute to both the professional and personal lives of Highsmith, cleverly balancing the film between writing and romance. Each provide a wonderful context for the other, how her affairs impacted her writing and how her writing impacted her social life. It moves with a great pacing and is terrifically narrated by the charming voices of Gwendoline Christie and Maren Kroymann.

Vitija’s style has a feeling of tenderness and affection, it is after all a love letter to Patricia Highsmith. However, while that tone and atmosphere works perfectly, there is one glaring omission. The film makes the briefest of touches upon the darker side of Highsmith and it feels like it wasn’t really worth mentioning at all, if it wasn’t going to become part of this exploration. Notably in her later years Highsmith was overtly racist and antisemitic, it’s an undeniable part of her legacy and feels as though it needed to be justifiably explored if it was going to be touched upon. It’s a shame as it’s one blind spot among what is otherwise a very interesting film.

There’s a great inclusion of different figures within Highsmith’s life from her work to her friends, family and lovers. It gives a great overview of the experience of being a lesbian in her time, the secrecy, the hidden clubs, the married women passing as straight. It holds an endearing curiosity, Vitija gives the feel of learning all this information for the first time, not just teaching it to the viewers. It’s a clear show of compassion and admiration, the tone throughout carries a high level of respect for Highsmith.

Loving Highsmith falls head over heels with the legendary author, taking viewers on a trip through the professional and personal sides of her life. It does feel as though it skirted around the issue of taking the good with the bad, skipping over some pertinent details to the past of Highsmith but it’s understandable why Vitija chose to keep focus on her success and rich social life. The entire tone and atmosphere is overflowing with fondness and affection, it’s captivating and cleverly balanced.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

In UK cinemas from 14 April

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