Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday Film Night - Truly, Madly, Deeply

How deep is true love? This month our columnist Annie West features a film that deals with romantic love that lasts beyond the grave.

I saw ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ sometime in the 90s. It was one of those films that stuck in my mind and just wouldn’t shift. I found out later that it won a BAFTA for best original screenplay and the Australian Film Industry’s Best Foreign Film Award. Several other romance writers have mentioned this to me as a stand out film, so obviously I wasn’t the only one impressed. If you’re after a love story with a difference, this could be the one for you.

I’m not usually a fan of weepy movies, but I sniffled and giggled my way through this one and came out afterwards feeling great. Why? Maybe the fact that Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman are so believable and likeable as the lovers separated (sort of) by death. Or perhaps because they had a wonderful screenplay. The film was written and directed by Anthony Mingella who later went on to write screenplays for The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain as well as directing The English Patient. Or maybe it’s because of the sense of love triumphing, however poignantly.

The story is about Nina, a translator, grieving the unexpected loss of her lover, Jamie. She hears his voice in her head, feels him near and can’t seem to move out of her desperately frozen state of loss despite therapy and her everyday interactions with colleagues, clients and neighbours. In fact the film has some great minor characters whose presence brings a sense of reality as well as wry humour to the story. Yet, despite the way real life impinges on Nina (even bringing an infestation of rats to her old flat), she’s totally absorbed by her grief.

The film’s title comes from a game Nina and Jamie used to play, taking turns to create a cumulative list of all the ways they loved each other.

Nina’s grief is intensely real and very moving as she tries and fails to get on with her life. When her sister asks if her son can have Jamie’s cello, Nina’s reaction leaves us in no doubt that it’s too soon for her to let go.

Then one day a miracle happens and she finds Jamie in their rundown flat. Jamie is a ghost, but in this movie he is real enough to be touched. Nina is ecstatic that her lover has returned and her life becomes a curious mixture of euphoria at his return and the mundane reality of sharing her home with a man. Not only are they ecstatic lovers, but they’re a real couple. Jamie is very matter of fact, even lecturing her on the right way to clean her teeth! By the way, lovers of Bach will enjoy the music as Jamie takes up his cello again.

But the path of love doesn’t run smoothly. In her outside world Nina meets Mark (played by Michael Maloney) and tentatively but unmistakeably they are attracted to each other. At the same time she comes home to find Jamie has invited a few friends over. Soon Nina’s flat becomes a meeting place for ghosts of all shapes and sizes and her control of the place is lost as they take over her television to watch old movies, play chess and socialise. The ghosts are perpetually cold so the heating has to be turned up to stifling temperatures . Jamie maintains his after-life pursuits - learning Spanish and talking to his friends. The sense of reunited lovers in a bubble of ecstatic happiness fades as a new reality sinks in. Life with a ghost lover isn’t necessarily a long term solution, despite the love between them.

This film is touching and clever and sensitive. It focuses on themes of letting go and at the same time on the constancy of true love. The triangle of Jamie – Nina – Mark inevitably means not all can win. Yet, as we learn the real reason for Jamie’s return, the ending is a bitter-sweet triumph that true lovers of romance will enjoy.

My only gripe? I wish someone had told Alan Rickman to shave the moustache before filming started.

‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ was filmed in one short month on a miniscule budget. No big sets, no lavish special effects. But for me it’s an enduring love story that shines. Just make sure you have your tissues handy.

Annie is starting the year on a high note. She’s just had her seventh story accepted for Modern/Presents/Sexy. Plus this month sees the release in the UK of her current story ‘The Greek Tycoon’s Unexpected Wife’. Stavros and Tessa’s story is one she’s particularly proud of. Click here to read about it, or even better, click here to buy it!


  1. Excellent choice, Annie - this is one of my all-time favourite films. Makes me bawl my eyes out every time, but it's fabulous.

  2. I utterly loved this movie. I have a very grainy, old taped-off-the-telly video of it. You've just reminded me to head down to the nearest JB Hi Fi and see if I can pick it up on DVD.

    Thanks, Annie.

  3. Oh, Annie, fabulous choice. This is one of my favourite films too. I can remember seeing it at the Village Twin at New Farm (that dates me) and crying my eyes out, especially that scene at the start where she's talking to the therapist about her grief. The truth of the emotion in that scene is a great lesson for any writer. Juliet Stevenson is luminous as Nina and Alan Rickman is just gorgeous. That voice is to die for (hmm, perhaps that might have solved their conflict!). Thanks for letting me revisit a wonderful film that I haven't thought about for ages.

  4. Hi, Ann! I laughed and cried too. I have a soft spot for ghost stories. Thanks for reminding me about this great movie. Btw, I'm with you on that hideous moustache--it's quite distracting!

    x Vanessa

  5. Hi Annie
    Thank you for sharing about this movie! I haven't seen it but it sounds gorgeous so I'll be hunting down the DVD. And that way I can watch and cry and not worry about having to take my red eyes and blotchy cheeks out in public! LOL
    Watching Alan Rickman is never a hardship, either, is it!!

  6. Hi everyone,

    Popping in very late to read your comments (I've been away and without a computer!). It's so lovely to see that there are others who share my appreciation of this film. The emotion in it is just so strong.

    Sharon, I hope you enjoy it if you find it. It's really worth a look.