All stories operate on two levels. There’s the dramatic level, which concerns if the film is well constructed; how tight is the structure, are the audience engaged and compelled, does it function as a piece of drama? It’s more about narrative function and design than it is about anything thematic or intellectual, which is the second level films operate on, the ideas level. This asks what the film is about; what messages is it transmitting, what is the story’s context, what points is it trying to make? 

A lot of films only concern themselves with the former, resulting in pacey, formally tight works that lack anything that will leave a significant impact on the viewer’s psyche. The more frustrating, however, is when a film is clearly interested in making an argument, and has a legitimate and striking thesis, but it hasn’t spent enough effort on making our journey through its ideas dramatically compelling. It’s certainly about something, but try as we might, we struggle to stay invested.

The Nest is clearly a film about something. It’s set in mid-80s England, when London was on the brink of becoming a global financial capital with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher enacting ‘the Big Bang’, a sweeping deregulation of the London Stock Exchange. This would modernise trading, open up banks for foreign ownership, and promise incredible opportunities for financial betterment to those with the drive to make something of themselves. 

One of such people is Rory O’Hara (Jude Law), a commodities broker who relocates his American wife Allison (Carrie Coon) and two children to a mansion in Surrey to take advantage of Thatcher’s neoliberal promises. As it turns out, such promises of uncapped success can completely rot your brain, and make an unstable person fall into delusions as they discover that opportunity is not, as was sold to them, easily available, regardless of how much they think they deserve it.

Writer-director Sean Durkin’s film is social commentary in narrative form, the characters act as symbols in a scathing deconstruction of the self-betterment ideology that pollutes late-stage capitalism and sowed the seeds for the 2008 crash. It’s certainly stylishly made; a low bubbling tension exists in the camerawork, the lens will look like it’s spying on our characters and shots are pointedly framed to make people look small or weak. Conflict will flare up in wide shots, leaving us trapped in empty spaces with the combatants, forced to watch them pick at each other. There’s a distinct effort to make people look less powerful than they believe they are.

The subtle ways in which Rory is revealed to be a detestable person accumulate throughout the narrative. He has an entitlement, an unfaltering belief that financial reward is owed to him, that he clings to tighter and tighter even as it’s shown to be false. When he does finally give in, confessing his financial and moral inadequacies to an anonymous cab driver, you get the feeling he’s only being vulnerable because it’s with someone he sees as unthreatening and incapable of exercising power over him. In a perfect ironic twist, this is proved to be untrue, as the cab driver tells him he’s not going to give a ride to someone who’s admitted they’re broke and a fraud.

While Rory is being deluded into a state of impenetrable self-righteousness, the subtler, and more affecting arc is in Allison’s journey – one of disillusionment. A horse trainer and riding coach, we watch her scold workers who bother her precious animal and act entitled when teachers pick on her children, saying to her daughter, “She can’t speak to you like that.” 

Allison clearly believes her children have to excel in whatever they do, and nobody can demean or criticise them, but as cracks begin to show in their marriage, family and home, she realises the man she put all her faith in is less capable of realising her dream life than she believed. She starts surveying Rory with scepticism, resentment, and even pity, and Coon brings an icy bitterness to Allison that keeps you wondering how she’ll defy her husband’s expectations next.

The Nest Jude Law

But while the performances and themes may be strong, The Nest ultimately suffers from the most grievous fault a drama can have – we’re not given a good enough reason to care. The Nest has something to say but hasn’t crafted a terribly engaging way to tell it. The stakes are seemingly that the O’Hara family might not improve their already incredibly luxurious living conditions. Sympathy is hard to find when your characters only realise they’re frauds at the end of the film, after we’ve seen them enjoy immense privilege for a solid 80 minutes. 

If we are to take The Nest’s themes as they’re presented, that these people’s attempts to reach new heights of wealth and status were all in vain because they never really had the opportunities they were promised, then what agency do they have in their own story? What can they do except face their own failure? It may be a compelling emotional realisation, but it cannot alone sustain a 107 minute feature.

Durkin has spent too much time trying to articulate a unique socio-political side-effect of a period of history and has neglected building an affecting, engaging drama. At the end of the day, what human struggles does The Nest ask us to sympathise over? These are people who all realise that they don’t truly belong in the upper-class world they’ve been existing in. They become disillusioned of their own self-deceptions, and the real villains of the piece, the contemporary financial and political institutions, will proceed to ruin thousands of lives and whole communities. Of all the people who suffered under Margaret Thatcher’s administration who deserve our sympathy, rich people realising they can’t sustain their richness might be at the bottom of the list.

Rating: ½

THE NEST will open in cinemas across the UK on Friday 27th August, 2021