Bill Nighy as Dan the farmer in Lawless Heart
Tagline: Stuart’s unexpected death leaves boyfriend Nick (Hollander), brother-in-law Dan (Nighy), and friend Tim (Henshall) suddenly aware of the need to seize life by the throat. The first chapter belongs to Dan (Bill Nighy). A morose married man, as closed off as he is hungry for something to open him up, Dan fumbles his way through a tortured attraction to the local florist (Clémentine Célarié) in full view of his wife.
Bill Nighy about Dan
Bill Nighy, who plays Dan, enthuses, “one of the things that attracted me to the project was the sophisticated way it deals with emotions, it is a grown-up script.”
Bill Nighy also enjoyed exploring this element of his character. “I think it is interesting that Dan is portrayed as a likeable and reasonable man without judgment or comment on his homophobia. He is one of those people who have accepted a viewpoint without ever really thinking about it. I think his views would be easily exploded, if the true, loving and important relationship that these two men had was revealed to him.”
Director Tom Hunsinger about Bil Nighy
One actor who joined the project at this early stage was veteran stage actor, Bill Nighy. “Tom called and asked if I would go and improvise a script. Then after explaining the story, characters and their relationships, myself and the other actors sat round a kitchen table with lots of coffee, improvising scenes while Tom and Neil made lots of tapes which were used to build up the characters.” The writers were particularly impressed by Bill’s improvisation. “Bill was an incredibly professional and nice person to work with—he was so inventive,” remarks Tom. “His improvisation was striking,” adds Neil, “with lots of rich and detailed ideas, which, although we had Dan’s story, really defined his character.” Martin Pope says, “I remember seeing Bill in The Men’s Room and was absolutely mesmerized. He is a wonderfully intelligent actor and brings something surprising to each moment on screen.”
However, Bill Nighy and Tom Hollander’s understated performances — as the deceased’s dull brother-in-law and the bereaved boyfriend, respectively — are a joy, bringing quiet dignity to a mature and sharply observant tale.
Nighy is particularly good, his mumbled, stumbling delivery hiding the depths of his confusion as he attempts to keep a lid on his mid-life crisis. In Lawless Heart, language is also shown to be an inadequate comforter and an imperfect conduit for truth.
Yet, “The Lawless Heart” instantly grabs your attention through the doleful performance of Bill Nighy, whose mid-life crisis story opens the narrative. “I once faked a broken heart, but I ran out of energy,” this downtrodden barroom philosopher says, before launching into a hesitant attempt at an extra-marital affair.
The film is beautifully acted. Nighy brings a slightly defeated air, a slightly distracted manner and a touch of the young Peter O’Toole to his role. He makes us believe Dan is someone who could actually say, “I once faked a broken heart, but I ran out of energy.”
Nighy is amusingly stiff and uncertain about everything; he has the posture of an adult, but doesn’t seem sure of how to approach any subject.
If the rest of the film never quite manages to match the acutely observed humour of Bill Nighy’s portrayal of married middle-aged farmer Dan’s faltering flirtation with an attractive Frenchwoman, it nevertheless draws a consistently witty and heartfelt portrait of contemporary British lives.
British Film institute (bfi.org.uk)
Added to the litany of praise are the sensitive, highly attuned performances of an impressively assembled cast. The mighty Bill Nighy is finally given a role worthy of his talents …
Although it’s unfair to single anyone out from such a strong cast, Bill Nighy’s flirtatious farmer provides constant pleasure as he negotiates the minefield of his own prejudices, greed and timidity.
Scotland on Sunday