The Almond and the Seahorse  (15) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Celyn Jones/Tom Stern, UK, 2022, 94 mins

Cast:  Rebel Wilson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Meera Syal, Celyn Jones, Trine Dyrholm

Review by Carol Allen

The almond and the seahorse are nicknames for two important parts of our brain.  The almond or amygdala to give it its proper name, stores your memories and the seahorse shaped hippocampus creates new ones.  

So your almond and seahorse are important parts of who you are.  But what happens when they are damaged and those memories  destroyed by a traumatic brain injury and you can’t remember those whom you love and with whom you share memories?  And what effect does that have on those relationships?   That is the subject matter of this film.

The story deals with the situation from the point of view of two women.  Sarah (Rebel Wilson) whose husband Joe (Celyn Jones) doesn’t remember their marriage though he really likes this strange to him woman who looks after him.   Toni (Charlotte Ginsberg) faces a similar situation with her long term partner Gwen (Tryne Dyrholm), who remembers how to play her cello but not her long term partner nor their lost baby.

Sarah and Toni eventually meet via the clinic run by Dr Falmer (Meera Syal), who admits she cannot restore those memories.   All she can do is help her patients live as independently as is possible.  But their partners will have to find their own way of living with the situation. And perhaps they can find a way of supporting each other?   Also in the cast is Ruth Madely as Syal’s stroppy but supportive assistant.

The film is adapted from a play by Kaite O’Reilly, which was first performed at the Sherman Theatre, Cardiff and has been adapted for the screen by the author and that theatre’s director Celyn Jones. 

The performances are all exceptionally good.  Rebel Wilson, best known for comedy, proves her abilities here as a dramatic actress.   Gainsbourg is intense and tight as a coiled spring, while Syal is the calm and caring professional who helps us to understand the situation.

Dyrholm quietly communicates her character’s distress and confusion, while Jones, who also co-directs is outstandingly moving, notably in a scene where, left alone, he can remember nothing – the medication he’s supposed to have taken, the cigarette he’s left burning in the ashtray, even who he is.  Terrifying.  Despite his disability though, Joe is a sweet natured character who loves children.  But that can be misinterpreted by those who don’t understand his condition, as happens in one alarming scene, where an oversensitive mother thinks he’s a danger to her child.

These are just two examples of the way the story communicates the characters’ dilemma.  Writer O’Reilly is an advocate for diversity in the arts, and this production, while highlighting this particular mental disability is also diverse enough in subject matter and casting to please the most woke of audiences, without in any way being preachy – though some may disapprove of the fact that so many of the characters smoke.  Tough. This is realistic drama, not a sermon.

I note from the credits that the film was actually made in  2021, though it has been re-edited since then.  Maybe distributors and such were concerned the subject matter might be too upsetting for audiences?  If so, I think they were mistaken.   This is  a very good film exploring a little known area of disability, while making us aware of just how important the almond and the seahorse are to the wellbeing of us all.