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Far from the comedy of gender roles suggested its title, Marcus Markou’s sophomore film, The Wife and Her House Husband, is a busy domestic drama. The London-set story covers many events in the course of a couple’s relationship, past and present, most of them alluded to and few covered on screen. In smaller, more tender moments, this is a blessing, as Laura Bayston and Laurence Spellman convincingly portray a couple, Cassie and Matthew respectively, whose pain is both in the past and yet also very present. But more often, the lack of events actually being caught on camera is keenly felt: much of the film’s runtime consists of the couple telling each other about occasions they were both present at, producing an odd sense of watching a flashback-centric film with all the flashbacks cut out.
In contrast to his debut, Papadopoulos & Sons (2012), Markou’s grasp of tone slips at several points. Sometimes it feels like a domestic comedy, sometimes an erotic thriller, but nothing ever quite feels deliberate. This isn’t helped by the pairing of the feature in its theatrical release with Markou’s 2017 short Two Strangers Who Meet Five Times, which also features Spellman. With a clarity of message and a structural simplicity that balance out its didacticism, it draws out the shortcomings of its bigger sibling. The feature’s visual presentation, consisting mostly of flatly staged medium two-shots, brings the theatricality of these conversations to the fore. A beautiful, still scene in a church took me by surprise; I realised it was the first wide shot in several scenes.
Of the two leads, Bayston is often the quieter presence in a scene, and stronger for it, convincingly rendering inner pain in a nervous, shut-down performance. Spellman orbits around her, emotions on full display, generating heat but not light, although part of that is by design: he’s the jilted husband, trying to peer around the defences erected by his wife.
The drama often surprises: a dewy-eyed discussion of early dates is followed by a torrid sex scene of dubious consent or enjoyment for either party. In its stark presentation of its themes, the film is unabashedly adult and admirably complex. But Markou continues to pile on the plates when the table is already groaning. Infidelity gives way to alcoholism, deaths in the family, class, gender roles and more. The approach ultimately feels scattershot, and the film sorely lacks a central theme on which to hang its drama. As with many a buffet, the breadth on offer does little to mask mediocre execution.
► The Wife and Her House Husband is in UK cinemas now.