Hector is a gritty and moving road-movie about a homeless man travelling from Scotland to London for Christmas. It is tough to watch in parts, but is also heart-warming and brilliantly acted. It avoids sentimentalising the characters or the subject matter.
Peter Mullan’s acting is gentle and under-stated in the title-role. As the film unfolds you gradually learn more about the trauma that led him to abandon his flat and wider family.
Compassion, cruelty and chaos all confront him as he hitch-hikes to London. There is the delivery man who gives him and his friends warm jackets, the priest who gives shelter and meal tickets, the welcoming café owner who serves a full English, and then gives seconds.
But there are also those who abuse and belittle him and judge him unfairly. And he has to negotiate friendships with those whose lives, unlike his, are dominated by addiction. The film captures the pain etched into those whose own traumas have been multiplied by the chaos of rough sleeping.
En route, Hector’s attempts to make contact with his sister, after a gap of 15 years, does not go well. Yet, due to the persistence of another family member, the possibility of reconciliation is kept alive.
The shelter in London (basically Crisis at Christmas) is portrayed well. There is no easy digs at those who offer care and hospitality. The earnestness of the volunteers in high-vis vests, the slightly wearied kindness of the manager, the entertainment laid on and the mixed, edgy gratitude of the guests is all subtly accurate.
In one scene a whole room’s enjoyment of a choir singing is ruined by two guests who come back drunk. It captures well the tragi-comic nature of situations that can easily happen. It reminded me of a Christmas day at a shelter I managed 20 years ago, when one resident decided to urinate into the tea-urn. It led to a similar ruckus.
I would strongly recommend the film. It is especially relevant for anyone involved in homelessness and associated issues. It is just over 90 mins in length and could work well for teams of staff and volunteers, or a church group, to watch together and then discuss their reactions.
It is a powerful reminder about the tragic story that lies behind many people’s homelessness. But there is also much to reflect on about how services are run: the importance of a trauma-informed approach, of building trust, of helping facilitate family reconciliation and how year-round services connect with the bulge of activity which happens every Christmas.