Film review – Me Before You (Jojo Moyes, Thea Sharrock)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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After You – Jojo Moyes

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8/10. A bit bare for my liking, but gives a nice throwback to Me Before You.

“Lou Clark has lots of questions. Like how it is she’s ended up working in an airport bar, spending every shift watching other people jet off to new places. Or why the flat she’s owned for a year still doesn’t feel like home. Whether her close-knit family can forgive her for what she did eighteen months ago. And will she ever get over the love of her life. What Lou does know for certain is that something has to change. Then, one night, it does. But does the stranger on her doorstep hold the answers Lou is searching for – or just more questions? Close the door and life continues: simple, ordered, safe. Open it and she risks everything. But Lou once made a promise to live. And if she’s going to keep it, she has to invite them in…”

The bar for the follow-up to Me Before You was always going to be high: Jojo Moyes’ first novel about Lou Clark, the small-town, everyday girl who falls in love with the disabled man she’s caring for, before she has to say goodbye to him, broke hearts all over the world (including mine). So I snaffled up a copy of After You as soon as it hit the shelves and started reading it as soon as it was delivered.

It’s safe to say that After You took a different turn to what I was expecting. The novel opens up on Lou, living in London and working in an Irish pub at an airport, and thoroughly disobeying Will’s last instructions before he passed away:

“Don’t think of me too often. I don’t want to think of you getting all maudlin. Just live well. Just live.

Despite taking time off to travel after Will’s death, Lou is now firmly stuck in a life far from the one he hoped for her – made up of long, punishing shifts, bereavement support group sessions, horrible uniforms and scratchy wigs, isolation, alcohol – and absolutely no bright-coloured clothes. Contemplating her life one night looking out over London from the rooftop of the flat she used Will’s money to buy, Lou sees a glimpse of a face and, shocked and startled, she falls off the roof and onto a balcony below, seriously injuring herself. Forced to move back home to recuperate, she’s quickly stifled by the life she used to feel so comfortable in – and her old town, which is now full of far too many painful memories.  Everyone – including Patrick and his new fiance – seems to be moving on, except for her. Until a knock at her door changes her life irrevocably – for the person waiting for her on the other side is oddly familiar and yet entirely strange. With one knock, the Traynor family is back in Lou’s life – a side of the family Lou has never met, or been aware of. Accepting this stranger into her flat opens up a whole new world: every aspect of Lou’s life is questioned, thrown into turmoil and turned completely upside down. But along with the chaos comes the possibility of new love – until that’s threatened to be taken away from her, too.

Just how much more can Lou Clark bear to lose – and stand to gain?

After You was never going to be an easy book to write for Jojo Moyes, and it certainly wasn’t easy to read. Lou’s pain and struggle jumps off the page, making for a bittersweet and truly heart-wrenching read. Opportunity mingles with loss, new love with old ghosts, heartbreak with healing. It’s a rare novelist that can evoke genuine emotions for a fictional character, and I think I speak for a lot of other people when I say that Lou Clark made her way into my heart from the first few pages of Me Before You – and stayed there during After You. This beautifully-written novel gives us much-needed closure whilst granting Lou much-needed new pastures. An utterly absorbing, heart-warming and poignant read – don’t even think about not reading it.

The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

18186807“One single mum… One chaotic family… One handsome stranger… One unexpected love story. The One Plus One is a captivating and unconventional romance from Jojo Moyes about two lost souls meeting in the most unlikely circumstances.”

Life isn’t easy for the Thomases. Jess is a single mum of two – her biological daughter Tanzie, and her stepson Nicky – who works every hour God sends to pay the bills. With no sign of forthcoming child support from her ex Marty, she can barely make ends meet. But life isn’t easy for her children, either; Tanzie is a talented maths genius who longs to go to a specialist school that Jess has no hopes of affording. Nicky is a make-up-wearing misfit who is being relentlessly bullied by the local thugs; their latest spat put him in hospital.

Jess’ hopes are raised when she’s told about a maths competition that Tanzie has a chance of winning – and the prize money can fund the entrance to her dream school. But the competition is all the way in Scotland, and they have no hope of affording train fees. Jess decides to take a risk and drive her ex Marty’s old car – uninsured and untaxed – but things hit rock bottom when she’s caught by the police. The car is immediately impounded, she’s warned she’ll be fined, and now they have no way of making the journey.

Enter Ed Nicholls… Ed’s an ambitious financial hotshot who’s in somewhat of a pickle himself. Offering the girl he’s been hooking up with an insider tip to innocently help her earn some money has completely backfired. The girl informed her brother, who made money off of the transaction, and Ed’s now being threatened with indictment for his insider trading.

When Ed sees Jess and the kids at the side of the road, the police taking their car away, he offers to help by driving them all the next day. And so the four – and the kids’ smelly dog, Norman – embark on a journey that will change their lives forever. Ed is running from his family, who he doesn’t want to disappoint, and Jess is trying to hold everything together for their kids. But she’s hiding a secret from Ed – a secret that is about to destroy their slowly-developing relationship…

The One Plus One is a heartwarming story that initially starts with so much despair and pessimism that I couldn’t wait for the fates to turn for this lovely, down-to-earth mismatched group. It’s a slightly tamer novel than Moyes’ previous offerings – Me Before You and The Girl You Left Behind both had me in absolute tears – but it’s a lovely, bittersweet tale with a real, feel-good ending.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes

“France, 1916. Sophie Lefevre must keep her family safe whilst her adored husband Edouard fights at the front. When she is ordered to serve the German officers who descend on her hotel each evening, her home becomes riven by fierce tensions. And from the moment the new Kommandant sets eyes on Sophie’s portrait – painted by Edouard – a dangerous obsession is born, which will lead Sophie to make a dark and terrible decision. Almost a century later, and Sophie’s portrait hangs in the home of Liv Halston, a wedding gift from her young husband before he died. A chance encounter reveals the painting’s true worth, and its troubled history. A history that is about to resurface and turn Liv’s life upside down all over again…”

I’m a huge fan of Jojo Moyes. Her books are always incredibly varied in topic and each is thought-provoking, detailed and well-researched. Jojo has a gift for creating endearing and genuine characters and those in The Girl You Left Behind were no exception. The story starts with Sophie Lefevre, the manager of Le Coq Rouge, a hotel in St Peronne. Her husband is fighting in the war and she’s left to hold the increasingly-requistioned fort as German soldiers overtake the village – and then her hotel. Sophie and her sister Helene must cook for the men they detest, including the hated Kommandant. But as Sophie and the Kommandant start to spend more time together they start talking more personally, and the Kommandant spends time admiring the portrait Sophie’s husband Edouard painted of her. At great risk, Sophie attempts to trade the painting that the Kommandant has come to adore for her husband’s freedom…

… A painting that, in 2006, is all that keeps widow Liv Halston going sometimes. She’s struggling after the death of her architect husband and when she goes out one night she has a chance encounter with Paul, a kind man that Liv starts to develop feelings for. But even can’t she predict the twist of fate in store for her – Paul is working to reacquaint Liv’s painting with Sophie Lefevre’s descendants. When he comes face to face with the work of art he’s been trying to track down he can’t ignore the fact that this painting was supposedly requisitioned during the war and, if so, rightfully belongs to the Lefevre family. Things quickly dissolve between the two as Liv refuses to be parted with the painting and an expensive and explosive lawsuit ensues that starts to ruin more than one part of Liv’s life.

Jojo brings the story to a detailed and satisfying climax as the true owner of The Girl You Left Behind is made apparent – and we finally found out what happened to Sophie and her husband Edouard in 1916. Jojo’s latest book is a stunning combination of historical and contemporary fiction and an compelling, emotional page-turner.

Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

“Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane. Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that. What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.”

Before I started Me Before You, I predicted that I would be crying by the end. That prediction came true.

Meet Will Traynor, a young banker who has been left paralysed after a motorcycle accident. Meet Lou Clark, who has just lost her comfy job and needs to find something quickly to support her family. She interviews for a private position to be a carer, and to her surprise, is hired. But her relief at finding an income is shortly wiped out by Will’s attitude towards her. He barely speaks, he’s rude, and he won’t even call her by her first name. She starts making some leeway with Will, but one day she overhears a conversation that changes everything. Suddenly, her job becomes a desperate race for time. Her family, her boyfriend and her life as she knows it crumbles away in her desperate bid to save Will.

Me Before You was finished in an evening and a half – I couldn’t put it down. Jojo Moyes creates a loveable set of characters – the wry but kind-hearted Will, the sturdy and strident Nathan and the ever-colourful bubbly Lou, whose favourite garment in the whole world is a pair of black-and-yellow bumblebee tights. Lou’s attempts to show Will that there are still good things left in the world – with concerts, parties and holidays – and her compassion are truly touching. Will’s staunch refusal to accept with the hand life has dealt him is frustrating but inspiring, and it lent me an insight into a world that I am fortunate enough to never have to think about.

A brilliantly written novel with an unexpected twist that will have you reaching for the tissues, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is a must-read.