Andrea Arnold's follow up to Red Road (2006) won her the Jury Prize at Cannes for the second time this year (shared with Thirst). Gritty and grotty in equal measure, the movie is set within the eastern expansion of London as yet unreached by regeneration. It's a landscape of sink estates, urban wasteland, riverside marshes, banal suburban strips and young people whose only way of interacting is via verbal abuse (when not displaying outright aggression).
Mia is a troubled, fifteen-year old latchkey kid whose young, single and debauched mother has just acquired a new bloke. This is the charming and well-toned Irish security guard Connor, a man trying hard to come over as a free spirit. Prior to his arrival Mia had been getting her kicks from headbutting her ex-best friend and breaking into an empty flat on the estate to practice her hip hop moves. Through her fascination with Connor we start to see Mia's softer side as well as her strikingly purposeful nature.
Indeed, perhaps Arnold is most deserving of praise here for finding ways of making such dire people and circumstances sympathetic and the playing out of this drama so gripping. The on-screen appeal of Michael Fassbender has helped a lot. The minor subplot involving Mia's efforts on behalf of a sick and ageing horse is also a contributing factor, though I found this element of the story a bit contrived.
This is Katie Jarvis's first film. She was reportedly spotted by the director having a row with her boyfriend at a bus shelter in Tilbury. I can just imagine the scene. In fact there was much about the film to take us back to our adventures in the more unreconstructed parts of the docklands. (Plevna Street and Silvertown spring most readily to mind.)
Grade: A -