Rocks (Sarah Gavron, 2019)
Apparently it takes the end of the world to see a female-directed film released, and here we have another one. I seem to recall some quibbles about the director’s Suffragette, but this is a remarkable piece of work in the Ken Loach tradition.
Rocks (Bukky Bakray) is left to look after her younger brother Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu) when her depressive mother disappears to get her head back together. Not only does Rocks have to juggle surrogate motherhood and the horrors of a single-sex school in East London, but a white and well-meaning neighbour has called social services and the spectre of foster care awaits them.
We are in the realm of Cathy Come Home and Kes, even if things don’t get quite as dark as they might. Tiny, the toad, is no Kes. We can see the pitfalls that Rocks risks as she runs out of money, runs out of sofas to surf, runs out of cheap hotels to use. And the temptation of taking money that a friend has got through nefarious means may cut her off from the school friends.
Whilst the central story and narrative is gripping — I have taught students not unlike Rocks, Emmanuel is played pitch perfectly, the siblings seem completely genuine — there’s a real richness in the school and the minor characters. Rocks has make-up skills, but her friend Sumaya (Kosar Ali) wants to be a lawyer. The careers teacher does her best to discourage this ambition — whilst possibly an arranged marriage lies in her future. In an art class they are introduced to the work of Picasso — who of course said something like “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child” — and they seem to have some real talent, but they likely have no chance of art school. And they can all dance.
Whilst Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson are behind the script, it emerged at of workshops with various schools and it convinced me at least of its authenticity. The question is whether the leads can repeat this film, or this brilliant one-off will be enough.
I confess I was a little restless towards the end — as the girls travel on an illict, fare-dodging day trip to Hastings (actually St Leonards Warrior Square), I was itching to check if that is a direct route to Victoria. That looked like a Southern Train, but might have needed to be SouthEastern… nope, Southern it is.
1066 country doesn’t exactly bring them transcendence or catharsis, but the possibility of happiness is there — as well as exclusion for unauthorised absence from school.