Owen (Harry McEntire) and Kristen (Madeleine Clark) are twins living on a council estate caring for their disabled mother (Melanie Hill). When their already limited finances tumble further, Kristen arranges to meet loan shark Liam (Christian Cooke). Clearly smitten, Kristen makes it her intention to woo Liam, but it’s Owen who he has eyes for and, before he knows what he’s let himself in for, they embark upon a tumultuous, unorthodox love affair that sees them both making very personal and potent discoveries.
A psycho-sexual character study masquerading as an intimate, yet peculiar love story, Unconditional explores a teenagers sudden desire to break free from the restraints his home life imposes on him, despite the mysteriousness surrounding the outside world and devotion to both his sister Kristen and their dependent mother. It’s tender and innocent enough at first, but as it reaches the midway point it adopts more thriller-esque qualities, slowly revealing Liam’s true personality through psychological cracks, while Owen begins to realise the extent of his reckless decisions.
The script, knitted together successfully by BAFTA award-winning screenwriter Joe Fischer, shifts tones at an impeccably fast rate, but manages to maintain its tight hold on its audience and an unfamiliar, limitless narrative. Unconditional explores an array of subjects, from sexuality to psychosis, but the reality is unflinching, which makes for a fully absorbing and immersive experience of the emotional rollercoaster each of them endures.
It’s through fly-on-the-wall camera techniques employed by director Bryn Higgins that this is achieved so efficiently, as we’re dropped into Owen and Kristen’s almost poverty-stricken situation and then pushed and pulled as they’re each influenced and affected by Liam’s mysteriousness in their own separate, yet equally believable ways. These characters and their situations, good or bad, are entirely honest and authentic to today’s society, which only makes their problems resonate with us more than usual.
Music is another key to Unconditional’s success, as it rises and plummets in sync with what’s happening on screen. But it’s the stand-out performances from the relatively inexperienced cast that allows the film’s threads to tie together so well and have that well-earned edge over others of its irk. From Clark’s emotionally unstable, yet loyal Kristen to McEntire’s sexually confused and easily influenced Owen and even Cooke’s troubled and dangerously unstable Liam, each actor’s performance is as good as the last.
It is this that makes, on paper, a sterling piece of writing into Unconditional: a fully realised, powerful and pitch-perfect British film. Higgins’ skilled, intrusive, yet tenderly watchful eye blends with the performances and punchy, unexpected shifts in tone and direction that come from Fischer’s more experienced writing style. Unconditional is a film that’s as realistic as it is tender, awakening and deeply disturbing, yet inherently optimistic, epitomised a sumptuous ending soundtracked to Frankie & The Heartstring’s Fragile and the crashing of waves.