Nowhere Special

Uberto Pasolini
Release Year:
Length (mins):
Italy, Romania, UK
Umberto Pasolini
James Norton, Daniel Lamont, Carol Moore, Siobhan McSweeney
Screening Date:
  • 21 Mar 2023
  • Categories:

    Inspired by true events, John (James Norton), a young Belfast window cleaner, is given only a few months to live so he attempts to find a new family for his three-year-old son. Powerful and ultimately life-affirming.

    Film Notes

    Nowhere Special review – tremendous James Norton performance lifts terminal illness drama.

    The McMafia star’s empathetic role as a single dad dying of brain cancer stops Uberto Pasolini’s film from getting cloying.

    James Norton, the actor who fixed up so smartly in TV’s McMafia that he instantly jumped to the top of the list to take over from Daniel Craig as James Bond, looks completely different here, and it took me a while to place him. With his neck tattooed, face gaunt and pale, Norton plays Belfast window cleaner John, a single dad who is dying of brain cancer. The movie, inspired by actual events and directed by Italian film-maker Uberto Pasolini, is the story of John’s search to find a family to adopt his four-year-old son Michael (Daniel Lamont). It’s tender and poignant, but might be a bit cloying were it not for Norton, who underplays it beautifully with a performance of tremendous depth and empathy.

    At the start of the film time is already running out for John, whose ex walked out when Michael was a baby. He has no family, so is working with social workers to interview prospective parents. It’s a definite “no” to the smug poshos and the couple who tell him they were hoping for a baby, but well, you know, beggars and all that. One or two of the couples are sketched as cartoonishly awful, which is a bit jarring. Where the film really comes alive is in the small details of everyday life – including one gorgeous moment as John walks Michael to school, the camera observing somehow both his heartache and pleasure holding hands with his son.

    The film gets dangerously close to sentimental; what keeps it interesting is the acting. Lamont, who plays little Michael, is a natural. On the page John is ever-so-slightly cliched; he fits the stereotype of the saintly working-class character whose own difficult childhood seems to have left him virtually baggage-free, a heroic selflessly good parent. And yet in spite of myself I invested totally in Norton’s spine-tingling, intimate performance; and, in spite of myself, the end had me in floods of tears.

    , The Guardian, 14th July 2021.

    Movie reviews: Nowhere Special is a sentimental journey that thankfully never lurches into melodrama.

    Death is the only natural absolute in life. It is a certainty wrapped up in mystery, which fascinates and horrifies us in equal measure. Little wonder then, that death is such a strong theme in all art forms – and especially in cinema.

    You might think that every possible death-related scenario has already been played out onscreen – but Uberto Pasolini’s Nowhere Special is a very original take on a story about the end of life.

    In 2017 producer/director Pasolini read a news article about a single father of a four-year-old boy. The father was diagnosed with an aggressive and fatal form of cancer, and because the boy’s mother was absent, the father spent his last months looking for a new family for his child.

    The article featured photos of father and son – and it was these in particular which spoke to Pasolini. He began to write a fictionalised version of the story, and focused on two main themes. 

    The first asked what life would a parent want to settle on their child – what kind of people, what kind of home would be best for their little one? And is that even possible to know?

    The second part was how a parent might explain their own imminent death to a tiny child. The process brought up many different issues, thoughts and feelings for Pasolini, whose own three daughters are grown-ups. There were questions about fatherhood and emotional connection, family, memory, legacy and death. All of these questions, and some answers, shape his film.

    Transposed to an unspecified town in Northern Ireland, Nowhere Special is about a window cleaner called John (James Norton) who lives with his four-year-old son Michael (Daniel Lamont).

    From the opening scenes it is clear that John is a loving father whose devotion is reciprocated by the little boy. Their connection is so deep as to need few words.

    John wants to choose the family with whom his child will live after his death. In the company of a young social worker (Valene Kane), father and son visit various families who have been approved to adopt.

    Though very young, Michael knows something is happening, but his father simply does not know how to explain it. We are not told John is ill, but it becomes apparent. And we see the boy disturbed by a strangeness that he can sense but not understand.

    The role of John is an unusual one for the London-born, Yorkshire-raised Norton. He has played very different characters up until now, including the villain Tommy Lee Royce in the TV series Happy Valley and a crime-solving vicar in Grantchester.

    He is wonderful in Nowhere Special – soft and reserved, but full of the unsaid. And what he does say is said in a remarkably accurate Belfast accent.

    The death of a parent is such a life-defining event that it is, inevitably, a strong theme in art. Think Hamlet. The loss of a parent was also a strong theme in fairytales and fables. There would be no wicked stepmother for Cinderella, Snow White, nor Hansel and Gretel, had their mothers not died and their fathers been so unwilling to defend them. 

    In cinema too, many famous characters have been forged by the loss of a parent. We see it in Harry Potter, Bambi and The Lion King. However, the concept of preparing children for the imminent death of a parent is relatively unusual.  

    Films like Stepmom, Terms of Endearment and recently Our Friend have all focused on the period leading up to the death of a mother, but all are set in families where the children will remain. These films have also been starry vehicles that didn’t shy away from tear-jerking.

    Nowhere Special avoids melodrama at all costs. Neither Pasolini nor the actors milk the emotion, so the film gets under your skin without ripping your heart to shreds. “Death” is never mentioned, the details of John’s illness are mostly avoided, though clearly there is something wrong.

    This gives a powerful sense of the hovering threat that Michael feels as a small child.

    The film neatly pokes the fairytale trope of the uncaring father and tackles the cliché that mothers are more important parents than fathers. There is a lot packed into the sparse dialogue and short running time (1 hr 36 min).

    Despite its inherent heartbreak, there is something peaceful, even uplifting about Nowhere Special, and the feeling lingers after the credits have rolled.

    Aine O'Connor,, 18th July 2021.

    What you thought about Nowhere Special

    Film Responses

    Excellent Good Average Poor Very Poor
    41 (69%) 17 (29%) 1 (2%) 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
    Total Number of Responses: 59
    Film Score (0-5): 4.68

    Collated Response Comments

    89 members and guests attended this screening. 59 of you gave a comment or posted on the website; delivering a film score of 4.68. This represent a 65% response rate. Thanks to all of you for taking the time in letting us know your views on the film and the presentation issues with the soundtrack. 

    Below are your collected observations.

    "Thanks for showing this truly immersive film. Even though the ambient sound takes time to attune to, it's captivating. Thought its slow pace and graceful nature allowed us the time to grasp the range of emotions, the father-son relationship and how mundane John's life is as he found his way through his own mortality. Pasolini's direction rightly shows John's treatment process or physical atrophy in limited detail. Norton's performance is captivating as is Daniel Lamont's, and I forgot they were acting. Then the portrayal of well meaning but some hopeless(?) possible adoptive parents places John in impossible quandaries; but a wonderful choice made! Pleased it didn't fall into melancholy, using the sadness of an important story, beautifully told. Quietly poetic as well when John counts the number of dead nits from his son's hair, and the discussion death when finding a dead beetle; a red candle for an unlikely 35th birthday – wonderful exchanges.. Made this old bloke think a lot ..."

    "Best film to date. Two main characters carried the film. James Norton carried the role without it becoming overly sentimental. Vignettes of other characters well played, the widow talking about her dead husband, the garage owner not charging the full amount. The mischievous moment when he throws eggs lightens the mood . Only criticism was ambient sound of traffic and the outdoors overwhelmed the dialogue at times. A lovely film nonetheless".

    "A good film, at least the 60% I could hear. Greatly spoilt by such poor sound mixing on the playback. I really don't like the society's policy of subtitles on American films, I find that so unnecessary, and yet here for the first time we had an English language film that could have done with subtitles!"

    "A plot summary that I would usually run a mile from, especially if the produce of the Hollywood maudlin tear-milking machine. Mercifully all false sentimentality and lachrymose hysteria is avoided. Given the huge life questions addressed it is lovely intimate film. Norton produces a superbly nuanced performance and the angelic but believable Michael is astonishing. The repeated use of glass and reflective surfaces subtly suggesting lost possibilities and the maze of responsibilities. Not a dry eye in the house by the finale I should think".

    "Despite the obvious sound issues, a touching film with good performances all round and an extraordinary little boy. Thanks".

    "Heart breaking. Beautiful".

    "A very hard emotional lesson of life was portrayed in this film. Very good acting by Michael (Daniel Lamont) the son of John (James Norton) although i found it hard to comprehend how a young child could act in this role and what the impact on his personal life later will be. A great social history film of the 21st Century dealing with the fostering of your own child and trying to make sure you have made the right decision when you have no family around. Even touches upon the problems of fostering that social services have to deal with. A child is a unique person that yearns for nurturing. It was interesting that none of John's friends came forward to adopt Michael, his son. The anal client so warped in his own bubble, with no compassion for someone else and being dismissive of John's disability, we all have 'off' days, we are all human. A good duty of care and sex educational film would be good to be shown in schools to teach how to be compassionate to every one with no judgement, the responsibilities of bringing a child into this world and the detriment if a parent dies or abandons a child. John's struggle of coping, the clock ticking with the silence of the deadly cancer is a reminder not to take life for granted, live for the moment and enjoy smelling the roses. The message of the film was very poignant, I was weeping. The film needs to be edited for speech quality, it was like watching a silent movie. The music was too loud, obliterating the speech/dialogue. The message of the film was exceptional".

    "Gets its message across very strongly. But spoiled somewhat, for me at least, by difficulty hearing the speech - maybe it's where I was sitting, but the background noise in some scenes drowned out the speech, which seemed very quiet at times".

    "Excellent acting, captivating. A very good ending".

    "Very moving quiet exploration of grief and separation with stellar performances from James Norton and the amazing 5 year old".

    "Heart wrenchingly moving and superbly acted".

    "A wonderful moving film marred by the sound track".

    "Sensitive treatment of unbearable pain and dilemma. Superb central role".

    "Bloody brilliant. Best of the season. More like this please". "Heart-breaking".

    "Wonderful acting by James Norton and his "son" Michael. The different family options were so cleverly thought out. The proper mummy won".

    "Amazingly sensitive film. Both father and son were so brilliantly played - loved the silences between them - and how he explained the fact of his death to his son, who seemed to have already understood. Only shame was the dialogue was very unclear".

    "My only complaint was that sometimes the background noises drowned out the dialogue - could this have been adjusted?"

    "The warmth of the relationship between father and son shone through despite the serious nature of the young actor. James Norton deserves credit for putting the boy at ease and working together 'on screen'. The sound quality still lets the viewing down in this venue. the background noise of the film drowned out the dialogue several times!!!"

    "Emotionally demanding. Dialogue drowned out by background some of the time".

    "Meditative, closely observed, absorbing, outstanding".

    "Beautifully acted - difficult to hear dialogue due to the background sound being louder".

    "James Norton is a very watchable actor. Very believable".

    "A lot of interesting emotional ground covered but not mawkish".

    "Great Acting - cannot imagine how you would direct a child that young. Gut wrenching".

    Film was excellent but i missed a lot of the dialogue. The background noises drowned out speech and the NI accents made it harder".

    "Very Good". "Such a moving film - profound. Sound quality was sadly poor but acting so good, the message transcended that. Excellent".

    "Has a problem understanding some of the dialogue. Would have welcomed subtitles".

    "Really well acted and so moving". "Fabulous acting. True and realistic".

    "A very moving film and well acted by James Norton and the young boy".

    "James Norton was made for this part. It touched my heart personally....."

    "Beautifully acted, So poignant. Very tastefully portrayed". "A lovely film".

    "A very moving film...beautifully made". "Excellent acting".

    "Difficult to always hear the speech - but I came to the conclusion that was probably what the guy was hearing through his brain tumour and it didn't much matter. The meaning was clear".

    "Moving film. wish I could have heard more dialogue".

    "Excellent acting - fabulous little boy! BUT lots of sadness!!"







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