Unsurprisingly, with both Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch starring, the acting in this film is excellent; they are two of today’s greatest working actors and both give performances that are layered, very likeable, and that mange to overcome the inherent dangers that come with this being based on a true, and recent story. Stuart is played by Tom Hardy, a deeply scarred man who’s suffered a very tough life, lives on the streets, is often very kind and loveable but also prone to fits of extreme pain. This role is a minefield of potential clichés which Hardy negotiates exceptionally. His portrayal of Stuart doesn’t simplify him, it doesn’t reduce him to any form of caricature, but does bring a great likeability to the role, something that’s essential to the film and its need for us to empathise with this character. It’s an excellent performance. Cumberbatch mustn’t be forgotten however; although he plays the less extreme man of the two he still brings a lot to the table, avoiding simply being a narrator, he crafts an interesting character out of what could have been a simplistic role. He plays the writer Alexander Masters, who decides to write Stuart’s memoirs despite him not being famous, glamorous or really seen as important in any way. The unlikely friendship that builds between these two, apparently entirely different men, is wonderful to watch – it’s as funny as it is poignant. This film sidesteps every single potential misstep that it sets up for itself; aside from being a true story and dealing with an almost overwhelming amount of hot topics, it’s also an adaptation of the memoirs that we see Cumberbatch/Masters writing during the film. I don’t think I know of a film that sets so much against itself and then, with a disarming sense of ease, completely pulls through. It’s not an outstanding film, but it’s very good, excellently portrays the growth of a special friendship, and comes highly recommended by me.
I should explain that the title refers to the way that we follow Masters’ investigations into Stuart’s past; we work backwards through his key life events in an attempt to discover what changed a well behaved and loved little boy, into the volatile and scarred, but also lovely Stuart. I’ve said enough praise already for our lead actors but a word has to be said for the child actors in the film, I thought they were all generally good, with Adam Payne doing particularly well as a young Stuart. The entire supporting cast are fine, but have very little attention given to them with it nearly all being focused on our leads.
Stuart: A Life Backwards is a charming little film, and one that I really hope gains more attention now that the two leads are becoming such recognised and loved actors. It shines a light into an area of our society that so often goes unrepresented, and is perhaps all the more affecting because of that. You know that I recommend this one strongly; not just as a curiosity piece for Hardy and Cumberbatch, but also because it’s a great little story, a moving depiction of friendship and is for those reasons alone very worthwhile seeing.