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D: Jake Gavin / 87m

Cast: Peter Mullan, Keith Allen, Natalie Gavin, Laurie Ventry, Sarah Solemani, Ewan Stewart, Stephen Tompkinson, Gina McKee

Hector McAdam (Mullan) is a fifty-something homeless man “living” with two other homeless people, Dougie (Ventry) and Hazel (Gavin), in a makeshift “home” at the rear of a service station in Scotland. He walks with a limp and has been in poor health for some time. Needing an operation, Hector decides to get in touch with his sister, Lizzie (McKee), who lives in Newcastle, but though he tracks down her husband, Derek (Tompkinson), his sister doesn’t want to see him. With his annual trip to London to stay at a charity shelter over the Xmas period coming up, Hector determines instead to find his brother, Peter (Stewart). With the aid of one of the shelter’s support workers, Sara (Solemani), Hector tries to locate Peter, but with only a vague idea of where to find him, his chances of being successful are very slim. But one day, Sara has a surprise for him, an unexpected visitor – Peter. As the reasons for Hector being homeless begin to be revealed, he’s also given a chance to reconnect with his family, and to face the future with more optimism than before…

Movies like Hector can appear – at first – as if they’re too slight, or too ephemeral, to work properly. This is borne out by the movie’s opening scenes, which see Hector trudging the streets from place to place and looking forlorn and rootless, a man adrift from his own life but having made a kind of peace with that. He’s good-natured, kind and thoughtful, but above all modest in his efforts to get by. Whatever his previous life, he’s moved on in his own way, even though it’s meant rejecting his family (and losing much more). We never learn what it is that means he needs an operation, but the emphasis is clear: it’s serious enough to make him rethink his situation and want to make amends (he has been homeless, and isolated himself, for fifteen years). As we spend more time with Hector, watching how painful walking is for him, how he has moments where he seems on the verge of some kind of seizure, first-time writer/director Jake Gavin ensures that Hector’s plight is one the viewer is entirely sympathetic of. He’s a good man, well liked and regarded, and thanks to Peter Mullan’s exemplary performance, deserving of our support.

By telling Hector’s story against a backdrop of homelessness and personal hardship, Gavin eschews the usual tropes and themes associated with such elements in favour of an approach that allows for tragedy and heartbreak, but not in a way that’s exploitative or melodramatic. Gavin’s direction is confident yet simple, allowing the narrative to broaden its scope when necessary, and to introduce a number of secondary characters, including Solemani’s ultra-supportive charity worker, that allows for an optimistic tone throughout. It’s arguable that Hector has it too easy – a social worker has helped him get his benefits and a pension, a shopkeeper helps him after he’s been assaulted – but that would be to miss the point of Hector’s story: it’s about taking those first brave steps toward reconciliation, both with his family and with himself. Mullan’s performance is first class, quietly commanding and authoritative, and with an emotional clarity to the character that’s all the more impressive for being so restrained. There’s fine support from Solemani, Ventry and Gavin, though Tompkinson’s over protective (and boorish) brother-in-law feels out of place, something that fortunately doesn’t harm the movie too much. It’s a surprisingly rewarding first feature, touching but persuasive, and with a simple sincerity that’s hard to beat.

Rating: 8/10 – a good example of the antithesis of today’s modern blockbuster, Hector is a small gem of a movie: unshowy yet emotive, and handled with due care and attention by all concerned; shot in a low-key style by DoP David Raedeker, this modest production is intelligent, absorbing, and beautifully understated.