Ruth Wilson stars as Kate, a middle-aged single woman suffocating in her rundown seaside town and her tedious as fuck office job. She works for the brew, where she meets Blonde, recently released from jail and looking to sign on. An affair with him looks sure to blow the dust off her life.
Firstly, obviously, Ruth Wilson is brilliant in this. Really layered performance, able to make every hesitation or glance communicate such vulnerability. Tom Burke plays Blonde, a rough around the edges guy, whose intentions always seem ambiguous.
From the outset Kate sees Blonde as someone who can make her feel alive. She wants what everybody wants, passion, excitement, connection. But beneath that, Kate hates her life, and is looking for someone to help her burn it all down.
Blonde is a very ambiguous character, because this film is Katie’s story, and he just happened to wander into it. It’s hard to tell who he is from who Kate needs him to be, and if he is deliberately and consciously playing into that difference or if, still further, he has his own objectives in mind. My first thought when they met was, “He’s gonna turn you out”. He definitely has the gaslighter’s guidebook to hand. The way he treats her comes off as a play to keep her off balance and doubting herself, usually prep for an abusive relationship.
Yet as time goes on, I began to wonder if that was just what Kate was seeing in him. While she’s not exactly middle class, he jokes that she’s ‘well brought up’ and ‘proper’. It’s obvious she looks at him as her piece of rough. When she asks him about his criminal history, she obviously wants to be thrilled by scary stories, but he snorts and tells her he was only inside 4 months. You wonder if she is trying to exploit this guy, who comes from a chaotic and broke background, where there’s some petty crime to survive, into fulfilling her bad boy fantasy. And maybe he’s playing into it, being the big man who treats the mean and keeps them keen, more to fulfil her expectations than as any reflection of his reality. Maybe there’s no intention of turning her out, maybe he’s just a broke guy who met her at the dole office, and whose changeability is less a play and more standard behaviour for his fragmented homelife.
So is this prep for something darker, something dangerous, something life-changing? Is it just the scattered and scadging ways of a man who grew up in a less than reliable and plentiful environment? And either way, is his affection for her actually real?
For that matter, is hers? She thinks she’s falling in love with him, but as I say, you see very little of him beyond her enthrallment with his rough and tumble ways. What she loves is the way he makes her feel. That he gives her an excuse to bunk off from the work she hates, to ditch the nights out with the friends she doesn’t like, and potentially provide her with a new and more exciting life.
Kate . . . isn’t actually that nice a person. She’s very sympathetic because she’s lonely and stultified, but she doesn’t really care about anybody else. Now, the people around her don’t seem very nice either, but that’s a little beside the point. Blonde tells her they’re not her “tribe”, which might be the case, they’re all heavily invested in their 2.4 kids and 9 to 5 lifestyles. Kate is viewed with pity and dismay to still be single and not committed to work. They all have a narrative of Kate The Failure, Kate The Fuckup, and whatever she tells them about herself, or her relationship with Blonde, is made to fit into it.
But, like, there might be good reason for that. We’re joining very late in the story, and maybe all these people are arseholes, or maybe Kate does have a long history of making incredibly bad choices. Maybe this isn’t the first disreputable guy she’s used as an excuse to go into a self-centred spiral. Maybe this is a familiar stop on the cycle for these people. Plus, she doesn’t seem to give a shit about any of them, she never has any concern about what might be going on in their lives. For example, the friend she ditched, the one who is super judgemental about Blonde, she got Kate the office job she is now skiving off from and taking the piss at. It never occurs to Kate to figure that in to her considerations. Maybe her pal has good reason to be pissed off.
True Things could be billed as a love story, but it’s more a complex character study of someone searching for something she needs. Love, sex, passion seem to be currency for some unsated yearning. And the players who pass it back and forth seem to be as much a mystery to themselves as to each other.