Director Peter Howitt writes a sharply incisive script filled with killer one liners and wry observations about infidelity, using divergent story threads which seamlessly cross over.
In many ways this feels like a Richard Curtis film for five minutes. Middle class twenty something Londoners living in unfeasibly large flats, sporting high flying jobs and cossetted by affluence. Everything has a polish and blissful ignorance while that all important reality bubble is being held back through the aid of movie magic. Concisely plotted and cleverly written, Sliding Doors inverts expectations whilst capturing Gwyneth Paltrow in a performance that foreshadows her Shakespearean Oscar win.
As a premise it simply explores the nature of “what if” scenarios based around one central event. Director Peter Howitt writes a sharply incisive script filled with killer one liners and wry observations about infidelity, using divergent story threads which seamlessly cross over. Much of the success comes through John Hannah who is gifted meandering swathes of dialogue which he delivers with deprecation. Paltrow is cloaked in an excellent English accent and gives Helen a naturalism and charm which carries you along from the outset. Jeanne Tripplehorn meanwhile plays adulteress opposite a demure Paltrow vamping it up without resorting to caricature.
Where Howitt and Curtis differ is in their fundamental take on rom-com territory. After fifteen minutes we are dropped into a stark reality where romance feels fought for rather than fragrantly given without effort. There are casualties, injuries and hard choices forced on these characters with a bittersweet trade off masquerading as romantic closure. Love rats abound, misunderstandings are in evidence but at no point feel clichéd. All concerned never drop the ball and Howitt’s direction which is reminiscent of early Bruce Robinson feels intimate and familiar.
Above all there is in inherent authenticity which shines through in the writing that perfectly balances each element and makes everything look effortless. There is something reassuringly accurate about the things which are said and Sliding Doors might well be the antithesis you need to all things Curtis. Twenty years later this film still has much to say about the perils of partnership and clandestine coupling and is deserving of a revisit.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Peter Howitt
Written by: Peter Howitt
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn
Icon Film Distribution presents Sliding Doors on collector’s edition Blu-ray and DVD May 13, 2019.