"This is the script, the film, the role that I've waited my whole professional life to play," says Northern Ireland's favourite son James Nesbitt of Blessed. It's a worthwhile performance, but Blessed, and Nesbitt's work therein, has nothing on his finest - 2002's Bloody Sunday.
Blessed is a low-budget British independent film which wasn't shown to the press prior to its UK release, and which arrived without fanfare at just one London cinema. The directorial debut of writer-director Mark Aldridge, the film is basically a two hander between Nesbitt, who spends most of the time mute, and a young newcomer called Lillian Woods, who doesn't arrive until a third of the way into the film.
Nesbitt plays Peter, a former City broker and workaholic who has moved to a small island to tend a lighthouse after the sudden death of his wife (a fleeting cameo from McElhone) and two daughters. He's not just in mourning, he's stricken with guilt due to the fact that he spent too much time in the office and too little with his family, who, on the day they died, had gone away for the weekend ahead of him. Peter's only contact with the rest of civilisation is Howie (Lewis), who delivers his supplies every few months. Peter lives one day at a time, keeping to a strict routine involving listening to the shipping forecast, polishing the lighthouse's windows and eating tins of Heinz soup.
Then, after a storm, he finds a lifeboat on the beach, and huddled up in it a young girl. This is Charlotte (Woods), the daughter of a stage magician who she believes will arrive on the island any day. She tells the mute Peter she'll hide if he uses the radio to call in help, and every day she stands on the beach or a promontory, looking out hopefully, waiting for dad. Not only does Charlotte interrupt Peter's routine but this feisty, imaginative little girl also gives him a reason to live, slowly cracking his shell until he finds his words again. He even confides in Howie, "I want to be here for someone. Needed. Depended on. Loved."
That's about it, drama-wise. With just a few more pokes this short, spare film could probably have moved away from the predictable and become as moving and as sweet as it aspires to be but it feels a little underdeveloped.
That said, Nesbitt is always watchable, even when he's communicating with just sad eyes and gestures. Young Woods has a pleasant natural quality and the film is handsomely shot by DP Steven Weiser. For the most part, the location is the tiny island of Ornsay, off Skye. Ornsay, with its ever-changing meteorology, is probably the real star of the film, providing a suitably emotive setting for the tale, all sun cutting through clouds, distant hills, water lapping on weed-laden rocks and the beam of the lighthouse slowly rotating.