Complete A-Z list



Stars: Asa Butterfield, Sally Hawkins, Rafe Spall, Eddie Marsan, Jo Yang, Martin McCann, Jake Davies, Alex Lawther, Alexa Davies, Deng Laoshi, Edward Baker-Close, Percelle Ascott

Director: Morgan Matthews

BBC films, whose TV licence fee takings have been frittered away on such obvious wastes of film stock as Brideshead Revisited and the three Woody Allen ego-trips that included the never released theatrically in Britain (except by Kurdish pirates in London’s Holloway Road) Scoop, suddenly scores with this witty and moving comedy-drama that serendipitously earns its every penny from your TV licence.

Perfect casting gives Asa Butterfield the complex role of an autistic teenage mathematics genius haunted by the death in a car crash of his father and unable to relate with genuine emotions to most people, especially his mother, played to perfection by Sally Hawkins.

Butterfield (“I think I see the world in a different way to other people”) takes refuge from real life by living with figures. Teacher and anarchic MS sufferer Rafe Spall, also excellent, coaches the lad who wins a place in the UK National for the International Mathematics Olympiad. The teams travel to train in Taiwan under the stewardship of Eddie Marsan (whose fine performance makes amends for his over-acting in the Spielberg flop The War Horse). And in Taiwan (locations beautifully captured by cinematographer Danny Cohen, hopefully no relation to the same-named BBC Director of Television), Butterfield’s tentative first romance with fellow competitor Jo Yang, catalyses his victory over his personality-crippling memories…

Bafta-winning documentary director Morgan Matthews makes a memorable move to fiction filmmaking, creating a warm-hearted, deeply moving and irresistible offering that is a genuine pleasure from start to finish and one of those rare films that would be worth seeing again.

There are no poor performances, infectious charm runs through the proceedings from start to finish, complemented by James Graham’s sensitive but never maudlin and humour-packed screenplay. Matthews is a born storyteller who never allows any hint of “Look-at-me-I’m an auteur!” ever to intrude on the narrative.

Alan Frank

UK/France/Canada 2014. UK Distributor: Koch Film. Colour.
112 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 13 Mar 2015