Film of the Week: X+Y (12A) ****

Asa Butterfield stars as the autistic maths genius Nathan
Asa Butterfield stars as the autistic maths genius Nathan
(Back to camera) Garrett Hedlund as Jamie McAllan. (Front of cart) Mary J. Blige as Florence Jackson (also inset)  and Rob Morgan as Hap Jackson.

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Film producers, who gauge success in pounds and dollars, know only too well that there is no simple, rigorous formula for guaranteed box office returns.

Just look at 1995’s massive flop, Cutthroat Island versus the franchise-spawning Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl in 2003.

X+Y is a bittersweet drama, which has been engineered to a predictable formula: misunderstood genius + neurodevelopmental disorder + touching romance = triumph against adversity.

Morgan Matthews’ uplifting feature rests heavily on 17-year-old lead actor Asa Butterfield.

He plays Nathan, an autistic savant teenager, who struggles to connect emotionally with people around him including his caring mother, Julie (Sally Hawkins).

Haunted by memories of his father, the teenager seeks comfort in complex mathematics. Unconventional teacher Mr Humphreys (Rafe Spall) suggests that Nathan should apply for the International Mathematics Olympiad hosted at Trinity College, Cambridge.

In order to make the cut, Nathan must travel with other candidates to Taiwan for a training camp, far from familiar surroundings and home comforts.

In this alien environment, Nathan remains distant from fellow UK competitors under the watchful eye of team leader Richard (Eddie Marsan).

Unexpectedly, Nathan experiences powerful feelings for Chinese competitor, Zhang Mei (Jo Yang), that defy logical explanation.

Inspired by a documentary, X+Y ventures from suburban England to bustling Taipei in search of answers about the fragile human condition. Butterfield delivers a convincing and moving portrayal of a beautiful mind, who cannot process love or affection, and always speaks with unflinching honesty.

Spall channels Michael Caine’s boozy tutor from Educating Rita, replete with wry one-liners, while Hawkins provides excellent support, repeatedly reaching out to her boy only for him to recoil at her touch.

Her frustration and heartache is palpable.