Me Before You review

This romantic drama is the first feature film from best-selling novelist Jojo Moyes, and it's a fairly conventional girl-meets-boy-and-they-fall-in-love story. Where it breaks from convention somewhat is that the boy in question is a quadriplegic, and the girl is his carer. And where Me Before You really breaks from the romantic movie convention – which has caused much controversy, and even anger, in some quarters, and here we enter spoiler territory – is that the boy has decided that he no longer wants to live.

me before you 2016 blu rayEmelia Clarke stars as Louisa Clark, a cheerful young woman who lives a quiet life with her family in a small English village. She has a very close relationship with sister Katrina (Jenna Coleman) and a boyfriend (Matthew Lewis, best known as Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter films) who is more interested in competing in triathlons with his mates than taking his lovely girlfriend on holiday. When she is laid off from her job at the local cafe, Lou is hired as a carer for Will Traynor (Sam Claflin). His family is rather wealthy – they own the local castle, for a start – and he was a London banker, and an active sportsman, before an accident left him a quadriplegic. She's been hired by Will's mother (Janet McTeer) and he's not keen on her at first, but her bubbly personality and caring nature soon thaw Will and the pair grow closer.

So yes, as these kinds of films go, Me Before You has a rather conventional setup: boy and girl meet, things get off to a shaky start, they soon warm to each other and ultimately fall in love. And there have probably been films where a carer and their disabled client fall in love, but none immediately springs to mind. The relationship develops quite naturally and sweetly, which is mainly down to great performances from the two leads. Clarke – probably best known for her work in that little, barely-watched TV show Game of Thrones (she also starred as a young Sarah Connor in 2015's Terminator Genysis) – just shines as Lou, bring an utterly charming vivacity and quirkiness to what could have quite easily been a cliched character. Claflin (best known for The Hunger Games films) is also decent, but he has a lot less to do, what with his character being unable to move. So he's confined to using just his face and voice, and he does a fine job. The direction from Thea Sharrock on her first feature film (she's directed the TV series Call The Midwife and The Hollow Crown) is solid and shows she has a decent film career ahead of her – as does Moyes, adapting her own novel for her first screenplay but showing a fine understanding of the feature film format.

And so to the controversy and attacks on Me Before You, because of Will's desire to end his life because he does not want to live as a quadriplegic. Before his accident Will lived a wealthy, jetsetting (and somewhat self-centred) lifestyle – bedding pretty blondes, driving fast cars, snowboarding and playing sports. He cannot see a way his life can be worth living confined to a wheelchair, unable to move, and so he plans to go to an assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland and end it. Now some disability groups have claimed that the message the movie is sending is that a disabled life is not worth living, and that all disabled people should just kill themselves. This is simply not the case. I am sure that most people who see the film will see it for exactly what it is – one man's story, and he just happen to be a man who decides he does not want to live that way – even after he finds the love of a good woman. It's sad, and he's wrong to want to end his life, but it's his life and his choice. The film is in no way espousing that disabled people should be euthenised.

Me Before You is a solid romantic drama (although it has some comedic moments, it's really not a rom-com, as some critics have dubbed it) from first-time filmmakers Sharrock and Moyes, with terrific performances from a fine British cast and some lovely location work. It's sweet, often funny, very emotional and a more-than-decent watch.

EXTRAS: The featurette Me Before You: From Page to Screen (5:40); a bleeped Outtakes reel (2:15); and Deleted Scenes (6:11)

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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