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"Radiator": A masterclass in understated narrative

The principal joy of being a Bafta member is not, as one might think, to sweep down a red carpet in a glorious creation which must be returned, unstained, by ten the following morning. Neither is it to lunch, attend screenings or wander round the bar trying insouciantly to catch the eye of a short-sighted casting director.

No, the great treat — and one needs a treat after the November-to-February Christmas chasm — is that DVDs plop through my letter-box on a daily basis, equipping me to vote for the best films from the full cinematic output of the year. Since my partner doesn’t enjoy any movie with blood, violence, swearing, mumbling, depression or graphic sex — let’s face it, he just likes Kind Hearts and Coronets — films like The Revenant and The Hateful Eight must be watched alone, and they were. With clenched knees.

I’m no film critic but I know what I like, and I liked Brooklyn, a beautiful, gentle adaptation of Colm Tóibín’s beautiful, gentle novel, with a gravely detailed performance from Saoirse Ronan. I’m also a sucker for bleak island sagas and Terence Davies’s Sunset Song haunted me for days. Peter Mullan terrified as the tyrant father, and the understated performance by Agyness Deyn, another beauty with an excess of consonants in her name, rang tingle-true.

Early in the viewing process, I watched two Westerns, enjoyed both and forgot them immediately. When you’re watching 30-odd films, one must take care — especially at my age — that it isn’t just the most recent that remains in the front of your brain.

Eventually I tore myself away from the TV to see a film that hadn’t even appeared on the Bafta long list. It was unsung and un-nominated. My daughter said, “I’ve booked three tickets for Radiator, it’s supposed to be brilliant.” “Radiator?” I asked, “what is it, a plumbing documentary?” We took our friend Karen, widow of the great writer Erich Segal, who turned to us at at the end and said: “I think that’s the best film I’ve ever seen.”

Radiator is a low-budget British film by actor-director Tom Browne, shot in his parents’ Cumbrian cottage and co-written with one of of its three stars, Daniel Cerqueira. This directorial debut, a masterclass in how to “show, not tell”, revolves around Daniel, a solitary London teacher recalled to the home of his ageing parents, where his father Leonard (Richard Johnson in the last great performance of his life) refuses to get up from the sofa.

Daniel’s mother Maria — played luminously by Gemma Jones, who should be knighted for this performance — and Leonard are living in a squalid state of crumbling disrepair. As his independence weakens, Leonard, a master of manipulation, behaves with increasing cruelty to his wife and son. The house itself, overrun by mice and mould, is the fourth star of the movie and the fifth is the glorious Cumbrian countryside. I couldn’t even wait to get home to find Gemma Jones’s telephone number; she was quite surprised to hear a fawning thespian blubbering down her line. I love talent.

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