Except for “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Dying Young,” in which Julia Roberts’ devoted nurse took care of Campbell Scott around the clock, I can’t think of other movies where the male lead is terminally ill. Actually, Sam Claflin in “Me Before You,” is paralyzed from the neck down after an accident, but wants to end his life, and so has to be cared for around the clock and cheered up with big dramatic gestures. When reviewing the weepy teen drama “Here On Earth,” in which Leelee Sobieski wishes to end her life asap because she’s in pain from cancer, despite having not one, but two, guys crazy about her, Roger Ebert thought her attitude was unrealistic. I did, too, as I did Sam’s ultimate decision in “Me Before You,” but I’ve never been in severe pain 24-7 with no relief in sight. So I admit I’m ignorant on that subject.
Surprisingly enough Sam, who used to enjoy extreme sports in his pre-accident life, is depressed and cynical and grouchy to his caregivers, resulting in them leaving. Although he is supposedly impossible to care for, it’s Emilia Clark who winds up sticking it out (and I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that it’s Sam Claflin). Emilia’s only other work experience has been in a tea shop (it takes place in England), so she’s rather awed when she discovers her new employers reside in a bona fide castle. Emilia is interested in fashion, but comes from a working class family and so has to take a practical job, while one of her sisters goes off to university. She’s quite a shock to upper-crust Sam – probably more because she dresses like Punky Brewster crossed with a preteen wearing clothes from her mom’s days with a repertory theater company. However, after the obligatory friction, they find themselves – gasp – falling in love.
Emilia does have a boyfriend (Matthew Lewis), but he is the sort to prefer a Will Ferrell movie to a subtitled one, and a jaunt jogging around a track instead of sitting through a Mozart concert – in other words, a guy who would only be considered a dick in a Hollywood film. She sticks it out with him, though, but then she overhears a conversation that tells her that Sam is considering suicide, and his parents are willing to accept his decision, and so swings into high gear with a campaign to convince Sam to live. Eventually, she does break up with Matthew, and I almost felt bad for him, because what guy could compete with Prince Charming in a castle, even if he is in a wheelchair? Emilia and Sam then take a romantic vacation together, which is beautifully choreographed, and there is a bittersweet ending. The settings are gorgeous, the script itself is predictable, but there’s constant drama to be had in seeing what outfit Emilia will appear in next. Not to mention wondering where in the world she got some of the stuff.