She’s rude, belligerent and overbearing, and proud of it. She’s crippled and ailing, drinks like a fish and has been a war photographer. She’s Ruth (Charlotte Rampling), a straight-talking English woman, and the central character in Matthew Saville’s film Juniper.
It’s 1992. Ruth is visiting her son Robert (Martin Csokas) and grandson Sam (George Ferrier) in New Zealand, only they don’t want her there. No love is lost between them. Ruth arrives in a wheelchair with a broken leg and a nurse, Sarah (Edith Poor), in tow. She does things her way, regardless of the consequences. Sam is in a particularly fragile state after the death of his beloved mother, after which his father carted him off to boarding school. Tension exists between father – who, himself was sent off to boarding school as a child – and son.
When Ruth turns up, Sam makes it clear that he wants nothing to do with her. But when Robert announces that he has to go to London to sort out Ruth’s trust, Sam is left with no choice (because nurse Sarah is also entitled to her breaks) but to deal with Ruth. Sam says he will give Ruth food and take her to the bathroom, but nothing more. Then the situation worsens dramatically, before relations thaw between the pair.
Pain and healing were at the forefront of my mind when reflecting on Juniper. The film features a number of important reveals that provide insights into the key characters. Stunning cinematography from Martyn Williams and an evocative soundtrack from Mark Perkins and Marlon Williams are features. While the movie follows a largely predictable arc, it’s still a quality production, with a series of stellar performances.
Rampling does haughty with distinction, in a fine showing of rage and resistance. In a breakthrough role, Ferrier makes a strong impression as the vulnerable youngster teetering on the edge. Csokas brings distance to his persona, while Poor is empathetic as Ruth’s carer.
Juniper is a thoughtful and reflective work, with moments of tenderness and compassion among the barbs.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Two documentaries – Ask Dr Ruth and Koko: A Red Dog Story
- I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore (Netflix) – movie review
- Benedetta – movie review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.