Beethoven said once that if he had to choose between the joys and the sorrows of his life, he would keep the sorrows, because he had learned so much more from them. Sometimes it takes a long day's journey into night to see ourselves clearly and realize it is time to change our lives.
Tanya (Dina Korzun) and her nine-year-old son Artiom (Artiom Strelnikov) arrive at an airport in England expecting to be met by Mark, her English fiancé. When he doesn't show up, Tanya panics. Threatened with deportation back to Moscow, she asks for political asylum. She and her son are driven in a van to Stonehaven, a run-down resort by the sea where refugees are housed, fed, and kept under surveillance. Tanya is told that it will take 12 to 16 months to process her application to stay in the country.
Pawel Pawlikowski directs this tightly structured drama about the plight of refugees and all those lost souls who have no place to call home. It doesn't take Tanya very long to realize that she and her son are imprisoned in terrible circumstances. Artiom reaches out for assistance from Alfie (Paddy Considine), an arcade manager who gives him a watch and entertains him. Desperate to get enough money to pay for an escape from Stonehaven, Tanya visits an Internet pornographer who had offered her a job. But she is unable to strip in front of the camera.
Alfie takes her out on a date, and they realize they both have made plenty of mistakes in the past. He was in prison for assault, and she's already been married and divorced twice. Tanya knows that it is time to change her life, to return to Moscow and start afresh on her own. But does she have the will power to leap out into the dark? Or will she place her future in the hands of another man? When Alfie comes up with an escape plan involving a small boat, Tanya's moment of decision is at hand.