I have read Me Before You described as a romantic — yet uplifting — drama. The narrative and plot are unquestionably the carapace of an unconventional weepie. Yet script and acting both don’t merely falter and fail, but touch on that sheer absurdity that steers it from tragedy.
This could be blamed on the writer. But the players seem at times shadowed by a script thrust upon them without foreknowledge of what exactly they are meant to do.
An exuberant young woman (Clarke) is engaged to care for a quadriplegic ex-athlete (Claflin), now slumped over and carefully preparing for a supervised suicide in a Swiss clinic. The parents (Coleman and Dance) of the paralysed man know his plans and hope the young woman will revive his will to live despite his ghastly entrapment.
In their own way they fall in love. There can be no physical love but they exchange forever-after endearments. How it all ends should remain secret from those who do in reality go anticipating woe. That’s about the sum of the story.
The film has had moderate critical and commercial success — but the disabled fraternity has scorned its portrait of quadriplegia and (it must be said) Claflin’s inveterate self-pity. Only when he begins to rid himself of his past heroic mementos (climbing Mt Everest, for one) does this egregious trope begin to be shed. The young woman lifts him up.
Many whose hearts have been claimed by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre remember its famous line: “Reader, I married him.” Recall, though, that Jane weds Rochester only once a fire has engulfed his mad wife in the attic and warped his sight and body. Me Before You echoes that extraordinary climax. The echo that resonates in this strange film is ancient: the alleviation of pain and suffering through love.
Me Before You
Directed by Thea Sharrock, script and novel by Jojo Moyes
Emilia Clarke, Sam Claflin, Jenna Coleman, Charles Dance