Over the last two decades, filmmaker Andrew Haigh has solidified himself as a prominent queer voice within film and television. From his 2011 romantic drama Weekend to his work behind HBO’s cult hit series Looking, spanning two seasons and one feature-length special. Haigh further establishes this acclaimed body of queer media with All of Us Strangers, an adaptation of the novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, that employs enough elements of fantasy, death and graphic sex to put Game of Thrones to shame.
The film plays as a fantastical but gut-wrenching ‘what-if’, following the isolated and emotionally stunted Adam (Andrew Scott), shaped as such by the trauma of losing his parents at age 12 in a fatal car crash. A death which he deems “not the most original” in his own words. This isolation is demonstrated through the empty and eerily silent tower block in which he lives. Adam is frequently shown looking down over the city of London through his large voyeuristic windows, locking himself away as the cliché tortured writer that he is.
His internal struggle with loneliness also stems from his feelings of being a social outsider as a gay man, which prevents him from forming any real emotional connections and rejecting those who try. Amongst these is Harry (Paul Mescal), the only other resident of the building who drunkenly turns up on his doorstep with an offer of some company. As Adam learns to accept his vulnerability and let people in, he sparks a passionate, loving relationship with Harry (cue intimate sex scenes galore). Alongside this, he opens his buried traumatic past through the fantastical, ‘what-if’ reunion that he is granted with his deceased parents.
Claire Foy and Jamie Bell deliver two equally incredible performances as Adam’s parents, both trapped within the 1980s of Adam’s childhood memories, yet somewhat aware of their tragic fates in a very dark exploration of death and lost parental love.
All of Us Strangers is nuanced in its undefined and abstract approach to these encounters, they are seemingly both a figment of his imagination as well as more than just memories. They almost haunt the in-between of dream and reality, for which they push Adam to just be grateful for instead of questioning why.
Two particularly poignant scenes come in the moments that Adam shares with each parent individually, finally coming out to his mother which is something he was robbed of, as well as his emotionally raw conversation with his father about the unspoken bullying he suffered as a child. It’s a moment that touches upon the masculinity and shame that links to his identity as a gay man.
The two scenes speak to the huge developments in gay rights, activism and social change made in Britain since the 1980s. In particular, the effect that growing up gay during the AIDs epidemic has had on a generation of men producing forms of heavy shame and alienation that persist today. The way the film connects Adam’s queer identity to themes of familial relations and childhood trauma is a testament to Haigh’s skills as a writer. I implore people to watch All of Us Strangers, even just to experience the scene in which Jamie Bell breaks Andrew Scott (and the audience) by saying: “I’m sorry I never came into your room when I heard you crying.”
Scott’s leading role is one deserving of so much recognition, but with the way award season seems to be going, we may have to settle for the masses of unanimously positive Letterboxd reviews. He so sensitively embodies the emotions and fears of 12-year-old Adam, unlocking them through the flicker of an eyelid or the waiver of his voice, carrying the emotional weight of the film confidently on his shoulders.
Mescal, the internet’s newest obsession, also delivers a standout performance, especially going off his countless nominations and BAFTA recognition for the role. Nevertheless, his northern accent does leave something to be desired. He seems to shift between multiple regions, landing somewhere between Yorkshire and Manchester before letting his own Irish accent slip through, made worse by his attempts at a flirtatious ‘gay voice’ for lack of better words.
However, it’s undeniable that despite this, he delivers a powerfully tragic performance in the final moments of All of Us Strangers as a part of its M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist, somewhat selling an ending that otherwise may have fallen short.
The four lead performers each take turns of equal responsibility in making the film what it is, a genuinely nuanced journey of grief and loss. All of Us Strangers earnestly explores the ways in which choosing to express and voice forms of love can help to heal even the most unreachable parts of yourself, a message set to the striking melody and lyrics of the 1984 classic ‘The Power of Love’.
All of Us Strangers is available to watch in select cinemas.