Despite the Falling Snow melts before your eyes - review

Still from Despite the Falling Snow
Shamim Sarif's time-jumping cold war thriller - adapted from her own novel - is strictly by the book

So many shivery night-time clinches in Moscow fill Despite the Falling Snow’s modest runtime, you wonder what proportion of the budget went on that ever-whirring snow machine. Swishing between two timeframes – a Bridge of Spies-ian Cold War setting in 1959, and 1992 – this po-faced romantic thriller is clearly a passion project for its director, Shamim Sarif, who also wrote the 2004 novel it’s based on. So why does it feel so impersonal?

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation’s Rebecca Ferguson takes dual roles – in 1959, she’s a spy called Katya, working for the Americans, who seduces a Russian politico called Sasha (Sam Reid) and even goes so far as to marry him, before mysteriously disappearing and leaving the guy a lovelorn wreck.

In 1992 she’s Katya’s niece, Lauren, who decides to travel from New York to Moscow and dig out the truth, against the advice of Sasha as an old man (Charles Dance, mainly staying out of it).

Sarif wants double-dealing at both ends of her story, so Lauren gets help from a scheming political reporter (Antje Traue) she also develops a crush on; meanwhile, it’s fairly obvious that Katya’s fellow spy Misha (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, then Anthony Head) is the man with the answers.

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The plotting’s so elementary you tend to be more distracted by the scenic elements, which include a will-this-do gallery exhibition after the fall of the USSR, featuring not only a Vertigo-tastic trompe-l’oeil portrait of Ferguson, but also a gaudy likeness of Stalin which some unnamed visionary has broken up like a smashed pane. A solid pass in 1992’s GCSE coursework surely beckons.

Ferguson’s performance as Katya is rather assured, but she can’t do much with Lauren, defeated by goofy styling, some very on-the-nose lesbian flirtation and an off-putting accent. It’s Reid, as in Ama Asante’s Belle, who comes up trumps as a genuinely soulful romantic lead, however much the chips are stacked against him.

The script’s typically vague on what Sasha’s Very Important Job is – Sarif never has enough eye for detail to get suspense off the ground. She should have begged the prop department to knock up a Hitchcockian Macguffin or two, rather than pooling all their energies into daft acrylic guesswork.