7 out of 10

Release Date: 8th August 2014

Director: Hong Khaou

Cast: Ben Whishaw, Cheng Pei-Pei, Andrew Leung, Naomi Christie, Morvern Christie and Peter Bowles

Writer: Hong Khaou

Trailer: LILTING

UnknownLilting won’t be for everyone. But for those that take to it’s ample charms there is plenty to savour. To be sure, Lilting is a very slow amble but at the same time it’s a tasteful lament about loss, understanding, parental love and forbidden love.  Ben Whishaw’s (BRIGHT STAR) plays Richard, a gay artist who lives with his half-Cambodian lover Kai (ANDREW LEUNG – CONTAINMENT) who unexpectedly dies. We flashback to scenes of their life together, especially a series of difficult discussions about whether or not to reveal their gay relationship to Kai’s mother, Junn (CHENG PEI-PEI – CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON). If they choose to keep their love a secret they cannot invite Junn to live with them and she’d instead have to live in an old people’s home.  Kai’s sudden death forces Richard to get to know the forceful and proud Junn (now living in the home).  He quickly finds out that their love for Kai may be the only thing they have in common, yet they try harder.  Richard enlists a translator (NAOMI CHRISTIE) so that they can communicate. He also tries to set Junn up with fellow resident Alan (PETER BOWLES – LOVE’S KITCHEN).  Will Junn ever trust Richard enough and if certain truths come out will that make for difficult times ahead?

Hong Khaou‘s debut feature is an interesting tale (set in London) amongst characters that rarely get a voice in UK cinema. The elderly Junn is fairly unique in that she is a film character faced with a lonely life because she doesn’t speak the language of her home country of 30 years (or so). She is/was reliant on her only child Kai and now she is left to cope by herself or make compromises to please other people. Her blossoming friendship with Alan is telling, in that once the translator gets involved they begin to fall-out because they can now communicate clearly. Before they could talk to each other they were good friends. The irony. Ben Whishaw and Cheng Pei Pei put in master performances in a film that doesn’t call for grandstanding.  It’s a quiet and thoroughly convincing affair.  And shows that you don’t need to say everything aloud to be understood.

If there were any negative points to highlight, I may say that some of the scenes with the translator seem drawn out at times with everything said at least twice. It rarely becomes a major sticking point though. In a performance driven movie and an unusual one at that Lilting aces it with great performances, an interesting plot structure (at times Kai seems like a ghost), a delicate yet sad score and wonderful cinematography.  The same plot could have been galvanised and turned into a grey-money-spinner like Quartet or Song For Marion but at all times Lilting shuns the easy road and chooses a truer and more convincing one. One where realistic characters make realistic decisions and have realistic conversations.

7 out of 10 – A quiet triumph. For the more patient viewer this is a wonderful observation on loneliness, old age and understanding that being gay can still be very strange for some people.


  • Ben Whishaw: In The Heart of the Sea, The Dutch Girl, The Lobster, James Bond – Spectre, Suffragette, Paddington (voice), The Zero Theorem, James Bond – Skyfall, The Cloud Atlas, The Tempest (2010), Brideshead Revisited (2008), Bright Star, I’m Not There, Perfume. Stoned
  • Cheng Pei-Pei: Streetfighter 2, Crouching Tiger – Hidden Dragon
  • Andrew Leung: Containment
  • Peter Bowles: We Are Tourists, Meet Pursuit Delange,  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (TV), In The Blood, Love’s Kitchen, The Bank Job, Freebird, To The Manor Born (TV), The Steal, Rumpole Of The Bailey (TV), Only When I Laugh (TV), Blow Up

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