In conjunction with my review of After You – call it a Moyes-a-thon – I’m publishing my first ever film review, of books that have been turned into films, of Me Before You, directed by Thea Sharrock. I loved the book and I was hopeful that with the much-loved Emilia Clarke, Matthew Lewis and Sam Claflin, it would be a film to remember. I made sure I packed plenty of tissues, however – I won’t forget finishing the book on a train and trying to avoid utter humiliation by stifling my sobs (sadly I failed).
Filmed mostly in Pembroke, the film stays true to the book’s English roots (I can’t stand it when they move films to different countries – usually America), and Emilia’s range of bright-coloured, quirky outfits certainly ring true with the paper version of Lou, as does her on- (and off-) screen sunny personality and cheery disposition.
The scenes between Will and Louise are filmed in a spacious annex to a huge, beautiful mansion – the physical distance between carer and patient echoes the emotional disconnect between the two. The gaping space between them hammers Lou’s discomfort home, contrasted to the small, suffocating nature of her family house. She’s often clock watching on her own, as Will makes his preference to be alone abundantly clear, before going home to her big, noisy family.
The film follows the book truly, though my one MAJOR disagreement was the casting of Patrick. Though Matthew Lewis’ toned physique makes him perfect for Lou’s marathon-loving, ill-suited boyfriend, Patrick is not a likeable character – whereas the loveable Neville-Longbottom-stereotyped Matthew Lewis is. I just couldn’t hate him – despite his attitudes in the film; dismissive towards Lou’s feelings, jealous of Will, overbearing and protective when he senses that their relationship has transgressed from carer and patient into something new. I had cast him in my head as Nathan, who I’m still convinced he would have been perfect as (I would have even forgiven the lack of Australian accent).
I, along with a hundred other people, enjoyed watching as Will’s isolating depression and Lou’s nervous eggshell-treading develops into a relationship of sorts; fragile and tense at first, then comfortable and easy as Will starts to let Lou in and Lou stops being scared of him. The iconic wedding dance scene is beautifully filmed, down to the gorgeous dress and spray of flowers in Lou’s hair – though by this point the contrast between Will’s former life and his current one is painfully ingrained into our consciousness, more so than with the book – as I, like a lot of people who read the book, simply couldn’t grasp the depth of it from the mere words on the page.
As the film moves to Majorca, where Will and Lou’s relationship finally takes off, we’re hopeful, despite knowing the ending, as the pair enjoy cocktails by the poolside, glorious sunshine and even gorgeous thunderstorms. But here again the film aligns with the book when Will admits to Lou that he’s still intent on ending his life.
Heartbroken, Lou hands in her notice and seeks comfort home – until she’s called to his side for one last time for him to say his last goodbye. Ignoring the Traynors at first and struggling to cope with the tense atmosphere in the household, Lou finally goes against her mother’s wishes and leaves to be by his side, in the nick of time. The closing scene between the two lovers is poignant and emotional, leaving no dry eyes in the cinema with its simplicity, beauty and Will’s last words to Lou.
The film had a few bits missing – the absence of Will’s sister Georgia and Steven Traynor’s affair (although it’s implied) and no reveal of Lou’s traumatic experience when she was younger – though this didn’t really harm it; there simply wasn’t enough time to include it all. There were also, for me, a few mis-casts – I’ve already mentioned Matthew Lewis, but I also felt that Camilla and Steven were cast slightly too old to be Will’s parents.
Despite that, Me Before You was well-worth watching, faithful to the book and hitting its contentious message home. Will’s right to choose – the underlying message of the film for me, despite how other people have chosen to interpret it – is keenly, uncomfortably highlighted as we see his constant health struggles with day-to-day life, the huge amount of difficulties added to each simple task, and his clear unwillingness to accept his new circumstances, illustrated admirably by Sam Claflin’s excellent acting.
Whatever your feelings on the book and film, the story raises essential questions about disabilities and our perceptions of them, given its lack of coverage in mainstream entertainment. What we only tend to see in newspaper articles and in online forums is brought to screen for everyone to consider, no matter their abilities. A must-see for sure.