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Film Review: Only You

5 August 2019
By Susan Tranfield-Thomas
Teacher and Founder Member of The Daisy Network Premature Menopause Support Group
Appeared in BioNews 1009

'I don't care how old you are – you're gorgeous' says Josh O'Connor's character Jake, PhD student and DJ, on hearing that his new girlfriend Elena is 35 (to his 26). Why would he? Elena, played by Spanish indie actress Laia Costa, isn't merely beautiful; she is witty, grounded and independent. Besides, she could easily pass for 25 and looks adorable in a beanie, although that isn't the point here. The age gap is not enough to shock the viewer or stand in the way of Jake and Elena's mutual lust though it will, in due course, stand in the way of the couple's cherished hopes for a baby and it is this that provides the dramatic conflict within the story.

Written and directed by Harry Woodcliffe, 'Only You' explores the pain and bewilderment caused by unexplained infertility. Based in part on the director's own experiences with IVF, it paints a (thankfully) realistic picture of the process both from a psychological and physical perspective, using the domestic setting of the couple's Glasgow flat, Elena's workplace and parties with friends.

At first, Elena and Jake's playful romance is a whirlwind of sexual attraction and carefree domestic bliss as they tentatively get to know each other. When Jake, seduced by the sight of Elena holding a friend's new baby, suggests they too start a family, they apply themselves frenetically to the task; Costa and O'Connor convey intimacy and sensuousness here without ever straying into exploitation. Both male and female gaze are given equal camera time, suggesting a tender vulnerability in both characters that makes them believable and sympathetic.

When the much-wanted pregnancy fails to materialise. Elena is forced to endure the rights of passage her similar aged friends are now taking for granted, as babies arrive and christenings are organised. Costa's mobile features and talent for improvisation (incredibly, she has only been in the business a handful of years) perfectly capture – with a slight lowering of the eyes – that sudden feeling of being an outsider within your peer group; being reminded of what you cannot have whilst holding a best friend's baby. Best friend (Lisa McGrillis, last seen playing kind but dim Kelly in TV comedy 'Mum') doesn't know what to say and falls back onto self-deprecation: 'You look gorgeous,' she tells Elena, 'I look like a ****ing whale.' 

Jake, meanwhile, is struggling with the new functionality of their sex life. What had been carefree and joyous now becomes tense and perfunctory. 'It feels mechanical and weird' he mutters. Elena endures every disappointing pregnancy test with mounting disquiet, as hairline cracks appear in their relationship and an ever more mercurial Jake, showing for once the immaturity of his age, retreats into himself. After six months of trying, they go for IVF.

Jake and Elena display the intense vulnerability of patients in this process. The professionals are brisk, transactional even. Elena's reaction is a cocktail of helplessness and unfocused fury; she relies on Jake to relay the information she has barely processed about their treatment. These scenes will either bring back difficult memories or relief at having received a kinder approach from clinicians – I could relate to both scenarios. 

The details of the couple's infertility are not made entirely obvious, nor is it clear why they must abandon any hope of success while Elena is still only 35. This vagueness might trouble anyone who has been through treatment, although there are plenty of scenes that I could recognise: the obsessive research about the (almost hourly) progress of an implanted embryo, for instance, or the cruel way in which the body can mimic pregnancy in the early days after the transfer (is it the drugs? Is it a baby?). Even the anxiety about money which goes hand in hand with infertility treatment for a large majority of people is evident here – leading to further tension when Jake breezily reassures Elena that his father will pay for it. A lesser film might have glossed over this, the way restaurant scenes in film rarely show a bill being paid.

This is a sensitive, beautifully shot film (set in Glasgow, but could be any European city) complemented by a gorgeous soundtrack which spotlights the thoughts and feelings of the characters. Is it a realistic depiction of one couple's IVF 'journey'? Perhaps. It is certainly an honest and surprisingly joyous story of love and loss and an exploration of what really matters. As Jake's warm, supportive father tells him in his darkest hour: 'You can only go forward – that's the beauty and tragedy of life.'

8 February 2021 - by Susan Tranfield-Thomas 
Making comedy out of the ups and downs of the adoption process is a bold move by most standards. Infertility and comedy aren't, after all, the easiest of bedfellows, and there will be no shortage of people like myself, ready to roll our eyes at the first sign of cliché and censure any attempt to create cheap laughs...
15 April 2019 - by Jakki Magowan 
Beyond Today is a BBC Radio 4 podcast series that aims to engage young people in current news topics. Harriet Noble, one of the show's producers, tackles fertility in this 22-minute programme after pondering whether she should pay to freeze her eggs...
15 October 2018 - by Susan Tranfield-Thomas 
'Dreams Before the Start of Time', a novel by Ann Charnock, 2018 winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award for SFX Book of the Year, begins in a not-so-distant possible future. In this world, humans exert so much control over reproduction that, over the course of just 100 years, the notion of gestating a fetus in its mother's womb comes to be viewed with pity if not downright hostility...
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