Directed by Sarah Gavron | Written by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson | 93 min | On Demand
“Rocks” is the nickname most know Shola Omotoso by. She’s a teenager who lives in a council flat — that’s a rent-controlled apartment in one of those tombstone-like concrete towers in suburban London. I’ve never been to one, but in movies they always look grim. The exception being this very situation — the architecture is brutal, but the flat seems pleasant and warm. Rocks (Bukky Bakray) lives there with her mother ( Layo-Christina Akinlude) and little brother, Emmanuel (D’angelou Osei Kissiedu), and attends a girl school in her ‘hood. She’s happy with a supportive group of friends. Then her mother vanishes, leaving a hastily scrawled note that doesn’t say much. With social services sniffing around, the tension here comes from Rocks trying to keep a lid on her mother’s absence while keeping Emmanuel close by and safe.
While the fear and frustration of Rocks’ situation is clear, the film works as both a drama and a window into the day-to- day life of this group of teenage girls in the city; the music they love, their relationship with tech, their diverse backgrounds, and their loyalty to each other. We get to watch over their shoulders as they hang out and attend class, which includes a cool dance class with an engaged and fun teacher (Sarah Niles). There’s a lovely feeling of community here that’s a far cry from some of the dour and bleak visions of working class British life we see at the movies and on TV — all crime and privation.
What works best here are the performances. In the credits, the filmmakers make a point of including the teen actors as collaborators on set, that they developed the characters together. The sense of authenticity in this docudrama is never in doubt — you will believe in these girls are who they seem.
We also get a heavy dose of sadness here in this story of damaged adults and the ways kids have to grow up too soon, but it’s framed with love and community, and that carries the day. The only possible criticism might be the density of the accents. I consume a fair amount of Anglo-centric entertainment, and even I struggled to decipher some of the slang-heavy dialogue.
With this and Michaela Coel’s series on HBO, I Will Destroy You, we’re getting distinct, vivid, and unique stories from first generation British women in 2020. It’s a thrill to see.