Just don’t tell the olds. Yeah?
Tired and defeated, Anna (Kathryn Worth) walks her way down dark roads to the rented Italian villa of her oldest friend Verena’s (Mary Roscoe) extended family. She was supposed to arrive with husband Alex, the vague excuse of him having to stay behind last minute as good a reason for her palpable malaise away from the larger group as the confrontational phone calls she’ll eventually field from him. There’s obviously trouble in the water where their marriage is concerned, but its severity is left unclear for now. Once Anna starts distancing herself from her peers to have late night fun with Verena’s children and nephew Oakley (Tom Hiddleston), however, things begin getting clearer. Her desire for an escape from the rote life she lives overpowers decorum.
Writer/director Joanna Hogg‘s feature theatrical debut Unrelated initially shows her lead on the border between these two worlds: one foot with the adults drinking wine and playing PG-rated games while the other’s off standing alongside mischievous youths risking danger and thus opening her up to a long-forgotten excitement. Verena shares a tale from school that says more about Anna’s straight-edged tameness than the subject of smoking despite the latter being the reason it popped into her head. So we can therefore imagine the straightforward path towards today she took before having it corroborated with a sheepish admission of not knowing much about sexual matters while Verena talks about her own wealth of experience pre-marriage to Charlie (Michael Hadley). By gravitating towards the young, maybe now will be her chance.
Young is relative of course. While Archie (Harry Kershaw) is a teen with Badge (Emma Hiddleston) slightly older than him and Jack (Henry Lloyd-Hughes) even older than her, Oakley is in his twenties. He can therefore be a troublemaking influence for the “kids” as well as Anna with the latter providing something they cannot: maturity. She’s someone he can drink his father’s (David Rintoul‘s George) stash of quality alcohol with and a “cool” chaperone with which to ignore his own unwritten responsibilities as the elder statesman of the cousins. Age-gap regardless, you can’t blame Anna for opening herself up to his charm as a result. Oakley is everything her life isn’t and his genuine interest in her beyond obligation something she probably hasn’t experienced in quite some time.
It’s intriguing to watch Hiddleston’s performance today considering this was his film debut. The way his character’s father describes his grin as being everything he hates about the boy is one hundred percent true and yet it’s everything Anna craves from her vantage. So she sidles closer, ignores Verena and the others for additional time with the kids, and willfully jumps naked into the pool with them to challenge her own preconceptions as much as theirs. Let’s just say I never held my breath as far as waiting for the two to finally hop into bed together because Hogg, Worth, and Hiddleston render it a foregone conclusion. Yet it’s also not at the same time considering her flirting carries intent while his is but an effortless personality quirk.
We ultimately realize Unrelated isn’t going to become the salacious romance we thought as Hogg forces us to take a step back from Anna’s skewed fantasy. Don’t assume this means there will be fewer fireworks, though, since what we may lose in explosive sexual drama due to close quarters amongst legitimately judgmental family is gained introspectively via Anna’s inability to keep hiding from her reality. The façade of escape that spending time in Tuscany afforded her from the doldrums of England crumbles to reveal how emotionally shattered she’s become. Activities that helped Anna forget her age suddenly remind her of it and the regret of never letting herself embrace her current desires in youth hit hard. And when adult responsibility unavoidably usurps childish allegiance, there’s no turning back.
The experience isn’t as much a mid-life crisis as the human lust for spontaneity and newness. Something beyond mere marital strife has occurred—something she might not be able to solve. It’s that permanence that has Anna acting out with a sense of “now or never” weighing more heavily upon her chest than it ever did when the future seemed infinite. That Oakley would smile at her like he does reminds her that she is a sexual being who isn’t beholden to convention or stodgy conservatism. She can still have fun without caring about the consequences. When the adults go to bed early, she can stay out and feel comfortable rather than a pariah. Maybe this rejuvenation leads her astray or perhaps it leads her back.
That she’d inevitably alienate herself from both sides of the equation (“olds” and “youngs”) is the perfect segue towards a forced awakening wherein she must acknowledge her struggles and stop pretending they can be covered up with the potent yet fleeting electricity of the moment. Anna can no longer live in opaque half-truths—not with Alex on the phone or Verena desperately attempting to figure out what’s ailing her friend. She can’t sacrifice her integrity and the safety of the children abstractly under her care for the chance of an affair. Nor can she simply laugh off that opportunity as a delusion and thus bottle up her yearning for more. There must be a middle ground, but discovering it means admitting the status quo is no longer enough.
Hogg has thus crafted an intelligently drawn and authentic character study above the soapy genre trappings of lustful fantasies. Rather than make the possibility of Anna embracing a much younger suitor unrealistic or paramount, the filmmaker portrays what those feelings conjure and how she can process them with wisdom. The scenario isn’t hinged upon her being rejected or accepted since the act itself is meaningless when compared to how it affects her psychology. Oakley isn’t here to validate Anna, but to remind her that time is nothing more than a construct to be broken. He’s a catalyst rather than a solution whose age and immaturity becomes an eye-opening revelation for Anna to accept his allure as always being less about what he offered her than what she needed.
 Kathryn Worth as Anna and Tom Hiddleston as Oakley in UNRELATED, a film by Joanna Hogg.
 Kathryn Worth as Anna and Mary Roscoe as Verena in UNRELATED, a film by Joanna Hogg.
 Kathryn Worth as Anna, Tom Hiddleston as Oakley and Mary Roscoe as Verena in UNRELATED, a film by Joanna Hogg.