The structure of Weekend couldn't be more tried-and-tested. Two people meet, they make an instant connection, they begin to get to know each other but they only have a limited amount of time to spend in each other's company before one has to depart. If you're now thinking of Brief Encounter, or perhaps Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, then you've got a rough idea of Weekend's tone, but it's the nature of the content that sets it apart. Those aforementioned movies were all about heterosexual relationships whereas Weekend is about two men who meet in a bar, enjoy a one-night stand, and then quickly realise that their relationship has taken on a weight and dimension that neither of them anticipated.
It begins on an ordinary Friday night in Nottingham, as Russell (Tom Cullen), a softly spoken lifeguard, leaves a family party and heads for a gay nightclub. After a few drinks and some tentative flirting, he takes Glen (Chris New) back to his flat and we pick the story up the next morning, as a typical post-coital awkwardness hangs in the air. Glen pulls out a tape recorder and asks Russell to recount the events of the night before, something that he does after every sexual encounter for an art project he is working on, and this acts as an icebreaker while also reveal something of the two characters. Glen is sharp-witted, brash and open about his sexuality and Russell is a little more circumspect; he's out of the closet, but only to his closest friends, and he is wary of public displays of homosexual affection.
Watching how these two characters interact, becoming more open and intimate and sharing more of themselves with each other, is the joy of Weekend. Writer/director Andrew Haigh creates an atmosphere and builds a rhythm that allows the actors to relax completely into their roles, and it's the contrast between them that makes the relationship so intriguing. As Saturday morning progresses into Saturday afternoon and then Saturday night, the pair have sex again, but for the most part Weekend is a film built on conversation. Russell and Glen talk about themselves, about their lives, about their plans for the future and about the perception of gay culture in modern Britain. Even when these exchanges grow more politically charged, it never feels forced, as if Haigh is imposing an agenda on the film. The dialogue, fuelled by drink and some recreational drugs, maintains the natural flow of a couple who feel increasingly at ease in each other's company.
At one point in Weekend, Glen discusses his art project and says, "Gays will only come because they’re hoping to see some cock, and they’ll be disappointed. Straights won’t come because it’s about gay sex." As he watched this scene play out, I wonder if Haigh intended it as a commentary on the commercial prospects for his film? Weekend is gay film, very much concerned with the details of gay relationships and society, but it deserves to have an impact beyond that niche audience. It's a film that is so honest about relationships, about the ability of one person to communicate their true feelings to another, and about the importance of making the right decision at the right time, that surely viewers of any persuasion will recognise some truth in it. For many audiences, its chief pleasure will be a simple one – as we watch the film end on a perfect note, we are reminded how rare it is to see a contemporary cinematic romance that feels honest, intelligent and real.