Peter Mullan is warm and weather-beaten as Hector, a grizzled homeless man on his way from Scotland to London for Christmas. For Mullan fans, it’s a rare opportunity to see him playing a character who doesn’t trouble the psychopath spectrum. Here, his magnetic performance holds together a sweet film that’s perhaps a little over-sugared and a touch under-storied.
Every year, ‘Hec’ spends Christmas at a London shelter, where a charity worker (Sara Solemani), now an old friend, saves him a space. This year’s no different and, as he travels south, he encounters old acquaintances and makes tentative steps to reconnect with his family. With his friends, Hec enjoys a sturdy, familiar humour that comes from sharing far less pleasant experiences, too. Those moments are a pleasure to watch – especially in the company of Jimbo, played by Keith Allen, who crackles with energy here. All in, Hector is a solid and well-earned first feature for director, Jake Gavin.
Gavin certainly did his homework for Hector. As a former volunteer at a Christmas shelter for the homeless, he brings warm and genuine insight on life in the homeless community. Details catch you off guard; this is a life where you will hardly ever experience dry feet. Not the worst of your problems, sure, but it does show that constant wear and tear can be devastating for a person’s mind and body. It’s carefully observed and heavy stuff. Set against all this, Hector’s journey to London is surprisingly hassle-free; almost everyone he meets bends over backwards to give him a hand. It veers Hector away from reality towards something sweeter, but less satisfying.
It’s just possible that this is exactly the kind of cynicism a film like Hector wants to overturn. Certainly, in getting under the skin of the people and relationships in the homeless community, Hector is doing a Good Thing, and doing it well. But like all films, Hector is more than just its intentions. In that respect, there’s no avoiding the fact that Hector’s conflict-free path doesn’t deliver much in the way of story. It’s a slow burn, and a tough one; ultimately, it’s a character study first and a story second.
Fortunately for the film, and for audiences, the character being studied is Hector and Hector is played by Peter Mullan. That’s all there is to it.