It’s rare that a film ostensibly about romance shows how toxic and one-sided relationships can be. Striking a balance between touching courtship and dangerous, manipulative behaviour is no easy feat, but veteran British director Harry Wootliff toes that line in True Things. It’s a scouring anti-romance that’s fascinating to peer into, anchored by its stellar lead performances.
The film follows Kate (Ruth Wilson), an office worker whose life seems to be dwindling: she often skips work, has a declining social life, and fantasises of a man sweeping her off her feet. Dreams they remain, until a mysterious blonde man (Tom Burke) rocks up to kickstart a whirlwind fling. But when Kate finds herself overly attached and clinging to a man who seems to be using her, things get dark.
It’s far from the traditional trajectory for a romance film, but True Things is more than willing to interrogate the extent of attachment in love. Even after their first sexual encounter, Kate quickly becomes obsessed: bunking off work to see him, stealing his personal data from the job centre’s database, and even lending him her car. All this happens without Kate even learning his name: it’s clear that she’s a person desperately craving attachment, and to feel wanted, but the way she dives straight into it sets off alarm bells.
The film then charts their rocky romance, and the mental anguish Kate wrangles with while going down this route. Ruth Wilson’s performance is splendidly vulnerable, capturing the blind obsession and total infatuation Kate feels, even to the detriment of her personal and professional life. Tom Burke is equally good as her mysterious blonde partner, managing to capture his heartless nature so well as he uses Kate while dropping her whenever it conveniences him. It’s a wildly toxic relationship with red flags from the off, making it even more tragic that Kate, so desperate to feel wanted, cannot recognise.
This interrogation of obsession and unbalanced relationships is really well executed throughout, bubbling slowly through Wootliff’s screenplay with Molly Davies. At times Kate’s decisions may infuriate you, especially when she pushes away people who are earnestly trying to help, but it’s ultimately impossible not to see her as a vulnerable woman being toyed with. The plot handles that so well, aside from a slightly turgid final-act switch to Spain, which feels tonally inconsistent and far too convenient. It leaves a somewhat unsatisfying final impression, but the rest of the film more than makes up for it.
There are few romance films quite like True Things, if it can even be called that: a tense and personal exploration of obsession and unbalanced relationships that is equal parts sympathetic as it is moving. The two leads are astounding and encapsulate two polar opposite sides of the romantic spectrum, and Harry Wootliff gives these characters and their motivations room to breathe. It slightly falters towards the end, but the nuanced thesis of True Things makes it worth watching.
True Things is out now on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.