"X + Y" is a charming British drama that sensitively explores the concepts of grief and tragedy

"X + Y" is a charming British drama that sensitively explores the concepts of grief and tragedy

With a charming, relaxed comedic touch this British drama sensitively explores the concepts of grief and tragedy. Directed by Morgan Matthews, it is an emotionally captivating insight into the life of a boy on the autistic spectrum, Nathan, brilliantly portrayed by the familiar, startling blue-eyes of Asa Butterfield (the illustrious child actor from Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Hugo). But it isn’t until the tragic passing of Nathan’s affable and charismatic father that Nathan’s childhood is thrown into disarray. A calming influence, his father possessed the unique ability to bond with Nathan and encourage him to overcome his social anxiety and improve his communicative skills. 

Flash forward and Nathan is now a self-absorbed, introverted and socially awkward teenager who finds solace through his obsession with Mathematics. He immerses himself in this world, using it as an escape from the day-to-day stresses of social interaction and his internal difficulty coming to terms with his father’s passing. 

His mother, Julie, portrayed by Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine), tries desperately to connect with Nathan but despite her devotion struggles to form an amiable relationship with him. Hawkins does a fantastic job of representing Julie’s sensitivity and grief, and expressing her heartbreaking difficulty coping without any social interaction outside of Nathan’s own social inadequacy and unaffectionate personality.

It isn’t long until Nathan’s prodigious mathematical ability is recognised and Julie organises an advanced maths tutor, Humphreys, to further work on and enhance Nathan’s talent. In a role nailed by Rafe Spall as a remarkable mathematical talent who, despite his genius, wound up as a secondary high school teacher due to his suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. Despondent, down-on-life and with cane in hand, Humphrey’s cynical wit is a highlight of the film. His interaction with Nathan as a father figure provides some lighter, humorous breaks from the drama of the film and teaches Nathan how to interact and feel comfortable with different types of people.

                                 Spall and Hawkins in a scene from "X+Y"             Source: BBC Films

                                Spall and Hawkins in a scene from "X+Y"             Source: BBC Films

The film concentrates on Nathan’s efforts to fulfil his dream of representing Great Britain at the International Mathematic Olympiad (IMO). He travels to Taipei to train with the British IMO team, where he is paired up with Jo Yang, a delightful young Chinese competitor portrayed by the lovely Zhang Mei. His time spent with her opens his eyes up to new emotions and experiences, teaching him that there is more to life than mathematics. And a mention must go out to Jake Davies as Luke, a fellow autistic mathematical genius and teammate of Nathan’s who provides an additional, enduring representation of autism in society. The film is exceptionally effective in exhibiting the adversity that the autistic community faces in accepting their own unique outlook on life and finding their place in society. 

This really is a terrific film and most certainly a must-see. It is undoubtedly similar to Matthews' 2007 documentary, Beautiful Young Minds, but this doesn’t detract from it’s own resplendence. Based on a true story, X + Y is a touching, beautiful and absolutely endearing experience. The acting is impeccable, bringing the character’s to life and allowing the audience to really relate to their hardships. Butterfield is truly remarkable as Nathan, perfectly expressing his internal social difficulties and issues overcoming the barriers of autism with incredible and admirable precision.

So make sure you have the tissues ready and prepare yourself for a heartwarming journey. Try to ignore the inevitable constant aww-ing and descriptions of how cute and ‘adorbs’ the movie is from us younger generation as you ask yourself the question, is there a formula for love?

4.5 out of 5 PIs


"X+Y" will be screening at Cinema Paradiso and Luna on SX from April 9

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