The word “everyday” – and not “every day” – suggests that perhaps this film, shot in a documentary style (with four children who are actually brothers and sisters) over a period of 2 years intends to capture an essence of, perhaps ironically, the spectacle of the ordinary day-to-day existence of its’ subjects: a single mother, Karen (Shirley Henderson), with four children who often visit their father, Ian (John Simm), in prison. The circumstances are not common, yet Winterbottom’s fictional story renders them as commonly as he can. The film’s mundaneness does churn a kind of lust for some devastating plot twist, or at least something momentous borne of the true relationship of these children, thrown into a pretence and then instructed to act like themselves, or not act at all. There appears to be enough control – whether cleaned up in post, or directed – that keeps the film, true to its design, as boring as humanly possible. And yes, this plainness, this artful reconstruction of the “everyday” is by no means ironic, it is in fact so accurate, that it’s somewhat off-putting.
Henderson, whose severity makes her an actress deeply suited to comedic or tragic extremes, brings a morbidity to Karen that alienates her from the young actors playing her children. They appear to be frightened of her. Although Winterbottom is sympathetic to her struggle – a woman who travels long distances to see her husband, works at local pub, is put-on by her husband’s neglectful mother, considers an affair with another man – Karen doesn’t seem to have any connection to the children. Her time spent with them exhausts her, and there is no moment in the film when she finds any joy in their company. She is their slave.
The scenes when Simm is visited in prison are great, if only for the two parents’ struggle to communicate honestly with each other in the presence of their children. They almost speak through them, laying blame for their son’s misbehaviour on her neglect or his influence in harsh whispers, followed by long silences. Simm’s prison time is only captured in his comings and goings from his cell. The cellmate may change, the room may change and his conditions of exit are gradually eased, permitting him to take outings with his family, on the order that he bring himself back to gaol. There is some freedom or respite in these outings, but the time is limited and both mother and father – the lovers – must return and complete their mutual sentences of imprisonment. It is a harbouring viewing experience, and rightly should be, because it bestows a sense of time that is enormous (it only runs for 106 minutes) and offers a contraceptive warning, that single-parenting, and loving a large family, is something you will have to do every single day.