The Nest is a 1980s ‘period‘ drama about the collapse of a married couple’s relationship and the disintegration of a family unit. Don’t expect fun times with this one.
Ahead of The Nest’s UK release later this month, director Sean Durkin took part in a Q&A to give curious viewers an indication of what audience members could expect from his film. During the session, Durkin draws attention to his film’s exploration of the political and cultural values of the 1980s—greed is good, risk for reward, acquisitiveness as an end in itself. The Nest is a film that at least tries to emphasise the moral vapidity of those sentiments, using an ambitious patriarch to embody them and to show the damage they impart upon social bonds.
Rory O’Hara (Jude Law) and Allison O’Hara (Carrie Coon) are married with two children, living a seemingly happy upper middle class life in the United States (their social and economic standing is signalled by the urbane sounds of Coltrane and Chopin). But Rory is a highly driven trader, with a history of forcing moves in the name of his career, and he’s been preparing his biggest move yet. Against the desires of his wife, he moves the family across the Atlantic and into an enormous Surrey mansion as part of his re-entry into the London financial industry. The dislocation and Rory’s behaviour quickly put a strain on everyone.
Rory’s conflation of economic value with qualitative value, his materialism and his misogyny all create tension. One key scene sees Allison inform him of the death of Richmond, a horse who had become a part of the family. Instead of consoling her, Rory’s reaction is to curse the breeder who sold them a “faulty horse.” His general attitude to the most important woman in his life is to shut her out from financial decisions, treat her like a piece of meat, and entirely refuse to listen to her. The children suffer too through his belief that simply putting a roof over their heads should be enough for them to repay Rory with affection and respect.
That’s plenty of words on the subtext of The Nest, not one of which accurately reflects what it’s like to watch the film, which in fewer words is a massive downer. Dramas about relationships in trouble always run the risk of devolving into the kind of miserable, serotonin-killing experience you can sooner induce by popping on an episode of EastEnders. If anything the opulence here makes it harder to care here. The setting is cold—a luxurious but drab line of offices, restaurants and country homes. The performances are colder—Jude Law and Carrie Coon being hard to love as self-absorbed egotists. And the themes, though thought-out, aren’t exactly emotionally involving. Sympathy emerges only for Rory’s son Benjamin, played by child actor Charlie Shotwell, whose performance as a kid enduring the trauma of a toxic home-environment provides a glimmer of tenderness.
On the home stretch Durkin tightens the screw, the family ensemble bottoming out with despair. Rory’s spiritual journey wraps up with a chatty cabby who offers him some unsolicited, not-so-subtle fortune cookie life advice. There’s a modicum of reconciliation in the final scene, though by then the house of cards has irreparably caved-in. In the end, after all the fights and tears, gloominess isn’t The Nest’s problem, it’s gloominess without reciprocation.
The Nest is a spotless but soulless tale of woe, and that’s without ever mentioning Margaret Thatcher’s name. Not an experience to rush back to again. Or, for the enterprising viewer, an edifying information film about how not to maintain a relationship and how not to handle your finances.
The Nest releases on 27 August 2021.
Words by Alex Crisp
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