And Then Come The Nightjars is based on a play of the same name written in 2015 by Bea Roberts. It was two hander with David Felder and Nigel Hastings reprising their roles of Michael and Jeffrey respectively in the film adaption.

Set in 2001 in a farm in Devon it has vet Jeffrey at Michael’s farm to oversee a calving. The pair have a strong rapport clearly built over many years, though Michael still has a curmudgeonly outlook. Overhanging both is the threat of Foot and Mouth that is sweeping the country and the government’s draconian measures to deal with it, which include culling entire herds, some which may not be directly affected but within a designated zone.

Jeffrey’s herd are unfortunately within a set zone and even though they have been certified healthy have to be destroyed. This falls to Michael and a team of vets. There’s a stand-off but in the end there’s no hope and the animals are killed and burnt on the dreadful pyres that people will have seen on television at the time. The generous compensation means nothing to Michael as director Paul Robinson shows the horror of the cull with Michael staggering through his farm with the hellish smoke and ash coming from the pyre all around him.

The film then moves forward through steps that sees the men repair their relationship. Michael an alcoholic now divorced while Michael has made constructive use of the compensation. The times are happier now with Jeff reuniting with daughter, (and ex-wife) for her wedding, and recovered from his demons. another step forward and Michael and Jeff, now living together in a platonic relationship with the elderly Michael being cared for by Jeff. The Nightjars? Well, they are supposed to be the portents of death when heard.

For a first feature Paul Robinson took on the difficult task of a playwright adapting her own work, and casting the original actors. There’s plenty of scope there for differences of interpretation and what worked there doesn’t work here. But there’s little overall sign of that.

It can’t totally escape its stage origins but the sensitivity of the acting and direction within the more authentic surroundings of a real farm lessen that effect. And Felder and Hastings are brilliant here with performances that audiences should be able to empathise with.

It’s a deep character study of two men at times desperately vulnerable and hurt that comes close to destroying them, that oddly enough later on with the boozing and tragedy of the cull behind them, lets them rebuild of a friendship that will now endure.

Then Come The Nightjars opens in UK cinemas on 1 September 2023.