First man is out and the Oscar predictions are in, mostly for ‘best picture’ and perhaps ‘best leading actor’ for Ryan Gosling, playing the emotionally closed Neil Armstrong. But a wave of sympathy is currently surrounding actress Claire Foy, cast in the ‘thankless role’ of his wife Janet. ‘She’s having an awful time, simply there waiting for her husband to come back and looking distressed’ (Tom Sutcliffe on Saturday Review, 13th October). On the same programme John Mullen described the home scenes as ‘incredibly dull’. Writing for the BBC, Nicholas Barber concluded both parts were ‘too unshowy to win awards.’
I’d like to suggest that rather than judging a film purely on its likely gong-potential, it’s against the bland reality of their daily lives that the characters’ roles – and the actors’ performances – should be considered. And I think they did a remarkable job.
NASA apparently chose their astronauts from the Venn diagram overlap of two groups: pilots (mostly from the Forces) with the right blend of skill and resilience; married men with families. They were thought to be more stable; less likely to take risks. Jack Swigert, who joined the crew of Apollo XIII due to his lucky childhood contraction of German Measles (memorably played by Kevin Bacon in the film) was, being single, a really unusual choice.
This is important background information, and the film gets it so right; capturing the tension of the Services spouse, keeping things going at home while their partner is involved in activities that make national headlines but of which not everyone approves. It’s not easy to hear the reason for your partner’s absence being hotly debated as if those involved were Lego characters rather than real people. While her husband heads for the moon, Janet looks after their boys. She monitors his progress through the transmitter in their sitting room; intensely private moments, yet always in the context of knowing the entire station is also listening.
I particularly admired the way the film conveyed the immense tension before departure, when everyone tends to channel emotion into displacement activity – perfect cooking; meticulous packing; angelic behaviour – when in reality you just want get on with it, so that a routine can be established from the date that has long loomed on the calendar. Similar care was taken in conveying the genuine warmth of life ‘on the (residential) patch’ where a plate of cookies arrives with a visitor who has been there just a week longer. Forces families really are amazing in the way they support each other –looking after each others’ children/parents/rabbits at a moment’s notice – because they are all in the same situation.
Watching a film is a collective experience which, like reading a book, can give us an understanding of a situation we might not otherwise encounter. So instead of dismissing the characters’ humdrum domesticity, how about seeing it as an opportunity for insight into how people behave in stressful circumstances? An awareness may come that in the small routines of living through such experiences, soothing others and providing a calm welcome back, another form of heroism also lies.
Army wife Alison Baverstock set up Reading Force in 2011, a shared-reading scheme offering Services families a fun activity to keep communication going when life is challenging. It’s free to all Forces, including Veterans, Reservists and former forces families (particularly children who no longer live with their Services parent). For a free scrapbook, or more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org