Sometimes Always Never, the critically acclaimed debut feature film by director and Edge Hill senior lecturer Carl Hunter has hit number 14 in the British Film Institute’s box office chart.

Starring Bill Nighy and written by screenwriter, novelist and Edge Hill Honorary Graduate Frank Cottrell Boyce, the film has received numerous positive reviews. The Guardian praised the film as an “elegant, offbeat comedy-drama”, BBC reviewer Mark Kermode as “very well-directed…moving and strangely gripping ” and the Telegraph as “an oddball gem of Scrabble, sadness and English whimsy.”

Senior lecturer in film Clare Heney is an associate producer and worked on still photography which contributes to the film’s distinctive visual style.

Sometimes Always Never tells the tale of a Scrabble-obsessed Merseyside tailor, Alan, played by Bill Nighy, whose eldest son stormed out of the family home after a particularly heated game of Scrabble, never to return. Alan must repair the relationship with his youngest son, Peter, before they can finally move on.

Carl, who is a Senior Lecturer in Media, Film and Television at Edge Hill University, first discussed Sometimes Always Never with Frank Cottrell Boyce after finishing their last film, Grow Your Own, a BBC production.

The pair also worked together on an award-winning children’s novel The Unforgotten Coat, and two short films, both produced by Hurricane Films: A Winter’s Tale which was commissioned by the British Council and A Day in the Life, produced to celebrate 50 years of the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album, which won the 2016 Labour Film Festival Short Film award.

Research for the film was extensive, with Carl and Clare interviewing Scrabble players at the National Scrabble Association championships in Durham, to understand the psyche of Scrabble enthusiasts. Clare shot, directed and edited a short form Scrabble documentary based on the national Scrabble weekend.

Carl said:

“Frank floated the idea of Sometimes Always Never a few years ago; a story about ‘loss and words’. Working with Frank is wonderful. He’s one of Britain’s greatest writers, he has a way of telling a universal story that’s on your doorstep.

“The film is set in Lancashire and Merseyside and makes great use of the landscape, featuring it’s ‘Sprout Prairies’ and windswept coastline.”

Alongside Nighy, Sam Riley and Alice Lowe play his son and daughter-in-law, with cast also including Tim McInnerny and Jenny Agutter.

“The producers turned up trumps getting me in front of some of Britain’s greatest actors, it’s a real list of Titans,” said Carl.

This is Bill Nighy as we’ve never seen him before. I showed Bill a set of polaroids of how I’d like the film to look and feel, and as I set them down in front of him he said ‘That’s a film I want to be a part of’. It was a dynamite moment and set us on the road to making the script become reality.”

Students from the Film Studies and Film Production course were able to shadow the location filming which took place in Maghull, Crosby and Ainsdale and the filming on set in Yorkshire in 2017.

Four Music Production students and Gary Westhead, Senior Lecturer in Music, Sound and Audio Production at Edge Hill re-recorded a classic Bonnie Tyler song for the soundtrack, which was performed by actor Tim McInnerny.

Sometimes Always Never was selected to show at the British Film Institute’s film festival, and has received cinema releases in Australia and Ireland, with a European and US release to follow.