Stars: Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, Anastasia Dymirtow, D’angelou Osei Kissiedu, Tawheda Begum, Afi Okaidja, Ruby Stokes
While it deals with distressing subject matter, this British drama from Sarah Gavron, director of ‘Suffragette’ and ‘Brick Lane’, is maybe the most effervescent and rousing picture of the year, thanks in no small part to its extraordinary, mostly newcomer, cast.
Shola aka ‘Rocks’ (Bakray) is a fifteen-year-old east Londoner. Her homelife with her devoted eight-year-old little brother Emmanuel (Kissiedu) is precarious, due to a mother who is barely able to hold things together, but Rocks enjoys the friendship of a disparate group of girls; best friend Sumaya (a scene-stealing Ali), Khadijah (Begum), Yawa (Okaidja), Sabina (Dymitrow) and Agnes (Ruby Stokes). Rocks is also a budding beautician, charging her school mates 50 pence a pop to thread their eyebrows.
When her mother disappears, leaving only a note saying that she needs to clear her head, Rocks is determined to maintain as a normal a home life as possible for her little brother, avoiding the snooping eyes of social workers and concerned teachers. Initially, they manage on the small amount of money their mother has left them, before Rocks turns, desperately, to theft. Later, they have to resort to relying on friends for accommodation, staying a night with Sumaya’s British-Somalian family, and another with Agnes’ more affluent white family.
Gavron, who in interviews has stressed the efforts of casting director Lucy Pardee, elicits wonderfully naturalistic performances from her multi-racial young cast, and co-writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson perfectly capture the easy, cheeky rapport between the teens, in a heart-warming but grounded paean to the resilience of youth and the power of friendship. Their camaraderie is never over-idealised though, with the girls just as likely express jealousy and petulance as solidarity - but they normally come around.
French cinemaphotographer, Hélène ‘Happy as Lazzaro’ Louvart’s jaunty and ever-curious photography stays up close and personal with the gang, while sympathetically charting all the nooks and crannies of Rocks’ Hackney environment, from dilapidated hotel rooms to snug Russian hairdressers. The best sequence is a near-wordless one, in which the crew head to the seaside and gaze in wonder at the new, alien environment.
Rocks is out at cinemas and available to stream on 18th September