When aging Thespian, Sir Michael (Brian Cox), is forced to take on a new Hungarian carer Dorottya (Coco Konig), due to his advancing Parkinson’s Disease. The relationship between the two is initially adversarial, but they soon bond over their familiarity with the works of Shakespeare. However the family grows suspicious when they discover Dorottya’s previous attempts to break into acting and believe she might be manipulating Sir Michael to achieve that end.
There is a rich history of treading the boards at work here. Shakespeare is strongly woven through out this film’s DNA. Not just in the numerous quotes, but in the intelligent and inventive way in which they are used. Of course they were going to revel in the “to be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet, but it is using the well know theme of the piece to publicly contemplate suicide (same as what Hamlet is speaking to). Of course the older Thespian is going to give a speech from Lear to his daughter, but he misses the irony in that speech being an undeserved admonishment. The Bard is core to The Carer, but stretches out to address other themes in the film whether it be aging, or racism, or family, or class, or the state of the theater in general.
With that in mind, it is little wonder that this is an actors’ film. A rather simple plot with strong dialogue, it is reliant on the actors to draw the audience in. Brian Cox sinks his teeth firmly into the role, moving from aging ham to confused elder to rakish rogue with accomplished ease. New comer Coco Konig is a bit less nuanced in her performance, but there is a natural charm about her that comes through. Together they really shine, both in combative sparring and as friends. It’s a strange and fluid relationship with shifting power dynamics. After all how can someone mentor you when you know he’s wearing nappies.
When its at its best, The Carer is a bitter sweet examination of aging. It has both a nostalgic melancholy and a vibrant energy that ebb and flow through the course of the piece. At times this dips towards sentimental tweeness, as the films score hammers the emotional notes home. Fortunately those moments are rare, and instead it is the exceptional acting and clever dialogue that take pride of place.
In some ways a sentimentally old fashioned film, but one with intellect and genuine heart.