'The Carer' Lacks a Single Moment of Unexpected Human Insight

Brian Cox’s brilliant acting and a talented supporting cast make ‘The Carer’ enjoyable to watch, despite the formulaic and predictable plot

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A scene from 'The Carer.'
A scene from 'The Carer.'Credit: Courtesy of Nachshon Films

Brian Cox is one of Britain’s most respected theater, film and television actors, but although he has appeared in many movies – including such hits as “Braveheart” and “Troy” – usually in supporting roles, his face is better known than his name, certainly outside his own country. In “The Carer,” Israeli-Hungarian director Janos Edelenyi tries to right this wrong by placing an entire film on Cox’s broad shoulders, giving him a role intended to showcase his considerable gifts. Unfortunately, this is too easy a role for an actor as talented and experienced as Cox, who has played King Lear on the stage. The result is a spectacle – a skillful and impressive one, but not really much of a challenge for Cox to overcome.

The screenplay, which Edelenyi wrote together with Gilbert Adair and Tom Kinninmont, also does not provide Cox with the right framework for demonstrating his talents: It is banal and predictable, full of shallow, predictable characters. The screenplay gives Cox the kind of part actors are supposed to salivate over, and Cox indeed tackles it with gusto, deftly navigating between the different emotions his role brings up, from impatience and rage to gentleness and acceptance.

Cox plays Sir Michael Gifford, a celebrated Shakespearean actor who is forced to retire when he is diagnosed with a form of Parkinson’s and becomes dependent on a wheelchair. He lives in a spacious country estate run by Milly (Anna Chancellor), an ex-lover who still has feelings for him and envies every woman who comes into his life. Sir Michael is the essential grumpy old man, aggressive and insulting, and he predictably scares off every caregiver that his daughter, Sophia (Emilia Fox), hires for him. All this changes when Sophia finds a new kind of help: Dorottya (Coco König), who is young, attractive and pleasant but has no experience in caring for cranky old patients. Maybe, however, an amateur can succeed where the professionals failed.

Dorottya came to England from Hungary; she dreams of becoming an actress, and therefore considers caring for Sir Michael a great honor. She even expects to learn from him while she goes about his care, which naturally involves some very unpoetic tasks. She speaks perfect English, and can recite much of “Hamlet” by heart, which finally forges a bond between her and Sir Michael, though at first he makes several attempts to get rid of her (he likes her almost immediately, but refuses to accept his own illness and dependence).

Yes, we’ve seen all this before; there’s almost nothing new, original or surprising about the relationship Sir Michael forms with Dorottya. The path of this relationship does not always run smooth. There are some altercations – not only between the disgruntled patient and his patient caretaker, who teaches him some valuable lessons in how to behave –but between Dorottya and Milly. The plot builds up toward its peak, a fancy London ceremony in which Sir Michael is supposed to receive a lifetime achievement award, but which Sophia and Milly insist he is too sick to attend, although he badly wants to be there and say his goodbyes to the world.

No experienced moviegoer can fail to guess how Dorottya will help resolve this conflict. And by the way, are there really such exclusive British ceremonies devoted to honoring a single person, which are attended by all the rich and famous and even broadcast live on television? Wouldn’t such a ceremony be over in a few minutes, especially if the guest of honor is absent, as everyone expects Sir Michael to be? But who knows? Maybe ritual-loving Britain does do that kind of thing.

“The Carer” has some good moments and sharp exchanges, and the entire cast – though overshadowed by Cox – give good, precise performances. However, they cannot overcome the formulaic, threadbare plot, which lacks a single moment of unexpected human insight. The movie’s virtues make it possible to watch with some pleasure, but its failings limit that pleasure, which certainly cannot make up for the flaws.

We can always, of course, simply savor Cox’s performance, as he himself does. His character even gets to deliver a passionate speech (most of which Cox wrote himself) about his life and enduring love of the theater: When it comes to the question of “to be or not to be,” his answer is definitely the former. But although watching him act is enjoyable, as spectacular performances by fine actors always are, this is not enough to keep “The Carer” from being a film that is quickly forgettable.