Written and directed by lead actress Cat White, co-directed by Phoebe Torrance, when tragedy strikes, a spirited young woman turns to wild swimming in search of answers. By swimming each day at dawn and forming an unlikely friendship, she learns to accept her grief and the grief of those around her. Also starring: Celia Imrie, Joshua Williams, Juliet Cowan and Delroy Brown.
Upon opening, Fifty-Four Days has a wonderful family atmosphere filled with affection and while it’s not bound to last in a story of tragedy, it does help to enrich the turmoil which its characters are about to face. From there it builds a strong tension, grief presents itself in a number of ways and some people can be more accepting of help than others which creates a very frustrating situation. Cat White and Phoebe Torrance capture that difficulty in their atmosphere, building a sincere tone which brings through plenty of emotion but still lingers in subtlety. It’s also great to see them make the most of the natural setting which is a boost to Courtney Bennett’s cinematography and adds plenty of strong colour and energy.
The way that the camera moves with White and Torrance’s direction also adds a nice raw quality to the film, reflecting the messy quality of grief and being right in the action. White’s writing strikes the same note, it captures the different sides to loss and how everyone handles it differently. It has an authenticity to its grief but it also never becomes overtly heavy. The creation of White’s character Ruby feels like a more optimistic, forward-looking presence which keeps things from becoming darker.
You could say the same about Cat White’s performance, she brings that struggle and deep sadness to the table but you can still feel her pro-active attitude. A performance that’s then improved when paired with the national treasure that is Celia Imrie. The two have a connection that’s engagingly natural, it’s one of those friendships where a person comes into your life at just the right time. Imrie’s Gloria provides Ruby with the encouragement and support that she needs, at the time she needs it the most. The moments between White and Joshua Williams don’t feel as strong, but Williams’ character is much more overt and driven by anger which isn’t quite as affective as the film’s subtler moments. Though while Delroy Brown’s appearance may be very short lived, he makes a big impression and impressively captures the complexity of emotion to his character.
Fifty-Four Days is a thoughtful and kind exploration of grief. Cat White and Phoebe Torrance’s directorial style creates a sincere atmosphere which holds an edge of candidness, while still feeling graceful. It’s got a great amount of tension, White’s leading performance presents a relatable and sympathetic personality who becomes the heart of her family’s grief, while Celia Imrie adds a generosity and compassion which is moving to watch.