The Girl In the Cafe (2005): The Hunger for Connection

February is the month that raves about love. It’s also Awards Season, culminating with the Oscars. With all the competing productions on the big screen, are you getting a bit overwhelmed by now? Or maybe a little indigestion even?

Here’s a little gem of a film, like lemon sorbet, simple and fresh, just to clear the palette. It’s only recently that I come across this DVD dated a few years back. O what a find! I took it out from the public library, have watched it three times, and maybe more before I ultimately return it.

Directed by David Yates (State of Play, TV) and written by the screenwriter who has brought us Bridget Jones’s Diary, Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually… Richard Curtis, The Girl in the Cafe is a reason why we should not dismiss TV movies or those that go directly from production to DVD.

The Girl in the Cafe

The story begins with a chance encounter. Lawrence (Bill Nighy, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) is an aging civil servant, a senior-level analyst working for the British Chancellor (Ken Stott). During one coffee break Lawrence, single, well no, married to his job, shares a table with a girl Gina (Kelly Macdonald, Dolly in Anna Karenina) in a crowded cafe. Thus sparks a genuine connection between the two. On a whim, Lawrence asks Gina to accompany him to attend the G8 Summit in Reykjavík, Iceland, the following week.

What’s that? Gina asks. Right, a most incompatible relationship. But just because of that, the drama, and conflict, sparks off. Lawrence’s shy demeanour fits perfectly with Gina’s quiet composure. But for both actors, their restrained and understated performance form the very essence of this charming and thought-provoking film.

Once there in Reykjavík, Gina is appalled by the facts she learns about world poverty from Lawrence, like, one child dying in every three seconds. She takes a very personal stance on the success of the Millenium Development Goals to fight extreme poverty. While heavy police force keeps protesters out of the Conference venue, Gina becomes one small voice that speaks out from inside, genuine and innocent among seasoned politicians, albeit bringing Lawrence unexpected ambivalence. Some may find it uncomfortable to watch this scenario, but I feel it is one that deserves to be played out, and definitely to be heard.

What grabs me right away as the movie begins is the soul stirring song ‘Cold Water’ as the images of Lawrence going by his daily routine all alone. At coffee break, he steps into the crowded cafe, and finds another soul also alone. It’s gratifying and a pleasure to watch them connect and warm up to each other in a most genuine and tender manner.

As the film ends, ‘Cold Water’ reprises, but by now I see the parallel. Not only do Lawrence and Gina reach out for human connectedness and love, the millions of dying children in extreme poverty are also uttering these words of the lyrics:

“Cold water surrounds me now.
And all I’ve got is your hand.
Lord can you hear me now?
Lord can you hear me now?
Lord can you hear me now?
Or am I lost?”

Don’t we all need a helping hand for the different kinds of hunger we experience as human? The song and the music in the film augment its impact in a quiet and haunting way.

Bill Nighy owns the role of Lawrence. His self-deprecating and gentle manner fits in perfectly with Kelly Macdonald’s authentic and genuine Gina. The two have such connectedness in their performance that they earned Golden Globes nomination for Best Actor and Actress the following year.

The DVD came with special features which include director and screenwriter’s commentary. That is definitely a bonus after viewing the film. From there I found out Nighy and Macdonald were in the British TV series State of Play before doing The Girl in the Cafe. So that’s exactly what I did… went to the library to borrow the DVD’s of the TV series, and binged-watched all six episodes, which I highly recommend as well.

~ ~ ~ Ripples


Watch on YouTube Damien Rice’s ‘Cold Water’ with lyrics.


Read my other reviews on films about love:

I’ve Loved You So Long

Away From Her

Never Let Me Go 

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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

19 thoughts on “The Girl In the Cafe (2005): The Hunger for Connection”

  1. I have loved Bill Nighy for the longest while (see Page Eight on Masterpiece later this month after Downton finishes). I’ve seen this at the video store but we always have opted for something else. So, I’m glad to hear such a glowing review, and one that will no doubt take me back to Video to Go. It sounds like just my kind of movie. Thanks for the recommendation.


    1. Jeanie,

      I’ve seen Page Eight and liked it. I admit I wasn’t a fan of Bill Nighy until I watch The Girl in the Cafe. Now, I’ve a lot of films of his to watch and re-watch. As for Kelly Macdonald, I liked her since she was in Nanny McPhee with Colin Firth. I highly recommend State of Play, the British TV mini-series. You’ll enjoy it if you like Page Eight. There’s a movie with Russell Crowe based on the series. It’s not bad but nothing close to the depth of the TV series. And I know she’s in Boardwalk Empire, but too bad I don’t have HBO.


  2. I saw this film when it first came out (on TV) and then when it was repeated a year or so ago. It was just as delightful the second time. I loved the way it manages to tell and personal and a political story. And it was great seeing Nighy in a more serious, vulnerable role – a bit like he was in Marigold. (I’ve seen State of Play too … but I don’t think I realised the female actor was the same … silly me.)


    1. WG,

      Yes, that was Kelly Macdonald in State of Play, dating back to 2003. Also, from there, have you noticed the kid as Bill Nighy’s son, that’s James McAvoy. And David Morrissey there too as politician Stephen Collins. BTW, did you see David Morrissey in Sense & Sensibility (TV) as Colonel Brandon? It’s so interesting to watch them all back then, so young and promising.


  3. Glad you gave this movie some blog-time Arti – it is a gem of a movie! and Bill Nighy perfect. A friend told me about a movie MacDonald is in called “Decoy Bride” – but I have not seen it yet – also with David Tennant. Have you seen that?

    Thanks for this Arti – I shall put it on my queue again – it deserves more than one viewing!


    1. Janeite Deb,

      Glad I’ve found some resonance from this gem of a film. I haven’t heard of Decoy Bride. I’m not sure if it’s been shown here. Now I’ve lots to explore with Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald. Maybe it’s the accents of these Brit actors, I know, Kelly’s quite different than Bill’s, but they just draw me in. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!


      1. Decoy Bride is on Netflix – it is a fluffy bit of romance I think – Tennant marrying a famous actress and MacDonald is hired as a stand-in to deflect the media – and then guess what happens! [how many times has this story been told!] – it could be awful! – but she is so good in everything [she IS brilliant in Boardwalk Empire]

        Assume you have seen Love Actually with Nighy playing the drugged-out, washed-out pop star; and he was wonderful in Page Eight. Are you aware that he is the spokesperson (and I think founder) of an audiobook company where British (mostly, some Americans I think) actors read their favorite classics – it is a wonderful collection of books – I have listened to a few, Jennifer Ehle reading Washington Square was terrific… here is the website:

        Do you think that Nighy has a fan club?! We could start one!


        1. Deb,

          O thanks so much for the link to the audiobooks. I’ll definitely check it out. Yes, I’ve seen Love Actually, just shows how versatile Bill Nighy is. I’ve got lots to explore, since I haven’t really paid that much attention to him until now, with this Girl in the Cafe. A heads-up… or maybe you know this already: Bill Nighy is in a Graham Greene biopic to be released this year, playing none other than Greene himself. I so look forward to this one. Hope I’ll have the chance to see it in Canada. You see, I don’t have HBO, nor Netflix.

          Also, just found out both BN and KM were nominated for a Best Actor/Actress Golden Globe in 2006 for The Girl in the Cafe.


      1. Hubby and I watched it last night. You called it “charming and thought-provoking”, and that’s exactly how we felt about it, too! Really enjoyed it. Thanks so much for the recommendation, Arti. 🙂


  4. This sounds interesting and very watchable, Arti. Oh, I must tell you, I actually saw a film the other day – Up in the Air, starring George Clooney. I thought it was excellent and for once it really fulfilled my desire to see something about real people’s lives on the big screen.


    1. litlove,

      I think you’ll really enjoy Girl in the Cafe. This film changed my view on Bill Nighy. As for Up in the Air, it’s one of my faves that year (2009). It was nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay (from a novel). If you’re interested here is my review I wrote back then. That film changed my view on George Clooney.


  5. I don’t usually do research before commenting on one of your reviews, but I just had to this time. When I read your description of the opening in this film, I was taken immediately to “Last Chance Harvey”, the Dustin Hoffman/Emma Thompson film.

    As it turns out, “The Girl in the Cafe” came first, by three years. “Last Chance Harvey” is from 2008.

    “Harvey” begins with a chance encounter. Hoffman plays an aging ad man/jingle writer who’s finding it hard to hold on in a changing world. He’s traveled to London for a meeting. During a break in the airport, he shares a table with a girl (Emma Thompson.) Thus sparks a genuine connection between the two. On a whim, Harvey asks his new friend to accompany him to his daughter’s wedding….

    And so on.

    There are amazing similarities. As much as I liked “Harvey”, I think “The Girl in the Cafe” is going to have to go on my list, too!


    1. Linda,

      Yes, I can see the similarities now that you mention about them. Great comparison, albeit Girl in the Cafe is a little more serious with a dash of social activism. Do check it out… I think you’ll enjoy this one.


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