BBC’s The Song Lunch is the story of two former lovers who get together for a meal fifteen years after they last saw each other. “He” (Alan Rickman, Harry Potter, Galaxy Quest) is a miserable, lonely book editor, and narrates the piece. “She” (Emma Thompson, Nanny McPhee, Last Chance Harvey) is happily married and living in Paris. The two come into the meeting with very different expectations, and as the afternoon wears on, much is laid out on the table, so to speak.
Rickman and Thompson are fantastic performers. Besides both playing professors in the Harry Potter movies, they also play a couple in Love Actually, so they aren’t exactly strangers. Yet, The Song of Lunch is also not a redo of their previous work. It’s something new and fresh, and the actors really inhabit the roles completely. Viewers will quickly forget they are watching Rickman and Thompson, and instead be completely taken in by the story unfolding, and the complicated parts being performed.
The Song of Lunch is based on a poem by Christopher Reid. And it feels like a poem. Most of the spoken word in the fifty minute production is done with His narration, rather than dialogue. This voice overspeaks in flowery language that is very clearly more than standard prose. Given His attempts to make it as a writer, but stuck in a dead end publishing job instead, the style of language is perfect for the character. Whenever the colorful words get too dramatic or ridiculous, one only needs to remember that He has failed at being a writer, though he fancies himself a wordsmith, and it’s all right. As such, the presentation of The Song of Lunch is really perfect for what it is trying to do.
If one has suffered failure and setback, it will be easy to relate to Him. Miserable, longing to be with Her again, but realizing He has no chance, getting drunk, mourning over the state of his existence. It’s pathetic, and it’s the kind of thing that happens more often in the mind, as various scenarios play out, than in reality. Yet, the sheer rawness of the emotion, and the power of the emotions expressed are gripping, and dully fascinating. The ending is both surprising, and fitting, after watching this desperate scene play out.
There will be sympathy for Her, to be sure, even if He is the main character. She shouldn’t have to sit through this. She may regret ever being with Him, seeing what He has become. She wants to stop Him, but also knows it’s too late to save him, nor is it Her job to do so. There is frustration, and perhaps regret for Her as well, having played any part of this downfall. When She walks away, though, there is no blaming Her. It’s regrettable that She will leave this encounter haunted by His destroyed visage, when She could have continued to live in blissful ignorance.
The setting is like Him. It’s familiar, a place the two of them used to frequent when they were a couple, but has undergone much change. As much as He wishes it were how it used to be, it’s a pointless wish, as time marches on, and nothing stays the same. She doesn’t seem to mind the differences, but then, She is more comfortable with the path Her life has taken than He is. Putting them in this specific restaurant, instead of a random eatery, only adds to the tension, and the beauty of the story.
It’s a good thing this story is so great, because the DVD release has zero special features. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine what features one would want with The Song of Lunch. Perhaps the two stars discussing the roles? Yet, it’s such a work of art that should stand alone, anything additional might take away from the piece. People who collect DVDs and are obsessed with extras will be disappointed. But the target audience for The Song of Lunch should have few complaints about it.
The Song of Lunch goes on sale on DVD this Tuesday, February 7th at retailers everywhere. It is also available to download streaming on amazon, or as a paperback.