Directed by Damien O'Donnell, starring Michael Sheen, Mark Addy, Jane Robbins, Jim Carter, Celia Imrie, Mark Strong.

'Heartlands' is director Damien O'Donnell's long-awaited follow-up to successful comedy 'East is East'. Rather than going down the big budget, big star route, O'Donnell has managed to sidestep the pressure by making a little film with a big heart about one ordinary man driven to extraordinary lengths.

Bubble-permed Colin (Sheen) is a small man living a small life, contentedly confined between his grim little newsagents, the local darts team and his much loved wife Sandra (Robbins). A passive doormat for the people around him, nobody - except himself - is surprised when Sandra runs off with the local copper and darts team captain Geoff (Carter). Devastated by her desertion, he nevertheless determines to win her back and revs up his little moped to follow the couple to the darts regional final in Blackpool.

It's an unlikely road trip, which turns into a voyage of self-discovery for Colin as he motors through the English midlands en route to the Las Vegas of the North. O'Donnell turns this simple story into a gentle celebration of nerdy but quintessentially English things from big hair to darts. The quirky asides, colourful characters (in particular, Mark Addy as a ginger-wigged bluff and boisterous pub landlord) and low-key humour bring the mood of 'Heartlands' close to David Lynch's elegiac 'The Straight Story', touching on the (also Paul Fraser-penned) 'Once Upon a Time in the Midlands'

Although originality may not be its strong suit, the talent involved in the making of 'Heartlands' elevates it into something very special. Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler has an unerring eye for small but definitive moments; a lovely sequence as Colin drives out of the maze of his home town, shots of sunshine through trees, the sights of the rolling English countryside and a carefree Colin jumping over the shadows of a windmill's sails. Acclaimed folk singer Kate Rusby makes a live appearance, also contributing to the soundtrack which is scored by traditional Scottish musician John McCusker.

Michael Sheen, resembling nothing so much as a lost hobbit from 'Lord of the Rings' with his cherubic face and mop of curls, turns in an outstanding performance as Colin. His transition from a small-town loser into an unlikely hero is both endearing and moving and you'll be rooting for him from the get go.

'Heartlands' is a warm, human, bitter-sweet charmer of a film from a director who builds on his reputation with each release.

Caroline Hennessy