Nathan Ellis (played by Edward Baker-Close then Asa Butterfield) is different – he always has been. He’s particularly anxious when it comes to social interactions and everyone except his father, Michael (by Martin McCann) seems to be humanly distant. When he’s only 9 years old, Nathan and his father set out for a drive – but there’s a tragic accident and Michael is killed. From that day onwards, life makes no sense to Nathan. He struggles along while his mother, Julie (by Sally Hawkins), tries hard to reach him and care for him, but he isolates her. Highly gifted, particularly at mathematics, Julie enrols Nathan early at a High School where he meets Martin Humphreys (by Rafe Spall), himself a maths genius. Mr Humphreys becomes Nathan’s tutor and they begin an enduring coaching relationship. Nathan is inspired to try for a spot on the British Team to attend the International Mathematics Olympiad – and things in his life start to take a more positive spin. He grasps keenly at the challenge and works hard to get a place on the team. On the Olympiad Team, his coach Richard (by Eddie Marsan) sees his potential, as does a fellow maths prodigy Zhang Mei (by Jo Yang). But apart from when he’s challenged at maths, Nathan is deeply traumatised by his father’s death and most of his life seems meaningless. This is the story of Nathan’s journey through the challenges of the International Maths Olympiad which in turn help him face the challenges in his everyday life.
This movie is certainly unique and although the story meanders a bit, it is told in simple terms – much like the outlook that Nathan has on life. On the autism spectrum, Nathan sees the world in a way not shared by most of his peers – he’s used to being weird, but here that concept is turned on its head when Nathan finds he’s “just average” amongst the team of maths prodigies. That’s a great perspective for the story. He’s also involuntarily involved in social interactions he has no choice about – both in the peer group and with individuals, so he must constantly face the great unknown – a source of huge trepidation for an autistic person. This becomes Nathan’s impetus to develop more strength and become socially comfortable, which is really depicted well here. The performances of both Asa Butterfield and Sally Hawkins are excellent. As Nathan’s long-suffering mother, we can really feel Julie’s anguish at Nathan’s failure to connect emotionally with her, which leaves her at pains to know how to have a good relationship with him. Rafe Spall is wonderful as the eccentric Mr Humphreys – another “warts and all” character – and his interaction with Nathan is great. The story doesn’t really hold the true value of this movie, it’s in watching the relationships develop. Overall, the whole thing is a good movie, that is very well done.
Made in 2014. Directed by Morgan Matthews.