Two For Joy, 2018.
Directed by Tom Beard.
Starring Samantha Morton, Billie Piper, Daniel Mays, Emilia Jones, Badger Skelton and Bella Ramsey.
A family on a run-down estate is in crisis. The father has died, the mother is profoundly depressed and being cared for by her teenage daughter, while her younger son is out of control. A short break by the seaside holds the promise of some respite, but things come to a head.
First time feature director Tom Beard must be pinching himself. Already a successful photographer, he’s now behind a different camera for a film that’s attracted some big names. Producer Sadie Frost. Funding from the BFI. And, perhaps best of all, a cast headed by Samantha Morton and including Billie Piper and Daniel Mays. Add to that a trio of talented child actors – Emilia Jones, Badger Skelton and Bella Ramsey – and he has the lot.
For a low-budget film, it has big ambitions, certainly in terms of its social themes. The focus is now-single mother Aisha (Samantha Morton), suffering from chronic depression following the death of her husband. Cared for by her teenage daughter, Vi (Emilia Jones), who has the address pressure of approaching GCSEs, she spends most of her time in bed and eating microwave meals, while her son, Troy (Badger Skelton) is out of control and getting into bad company. They decide to take a short break in a seaside caravan that belonged to the father and, at the holiday park, meet single mum Lillah (Billie Piper) and her rebellious daughter Miranda (Bella Ramsey). The two families get together over barbecues of burnt sausages and freshly caught fish but, with their respective problems, the omens aren’t good for it being a happy holiday.
Beard has also written the script, delivering a film which assumes a certain intelligence, emotional and otherwise, on the part of those watching. The dialogue has been pared down to the point of minimalism, leaving the audience to work out a lot of the story for itself. How did Aisha’s husband die? Why does Miranda have bruises on her shoulders? Other important pieces of information are drip fed gradually, sometimes only partially, so there are times when it’s almost a detective story: Lias (Daniel Mays), who runs the caravan park, seems resolutely single yet it’s revealed he has a child elsewhere but where and why he left is kept secret. This spartan style demands a lot of the actors, who have to express more through gestures and movements than through words. Dialogue is very much secondary.
The director doesn’t shy away from the social issues raised by the film. Depression and bereavement, particularly in the shape of Morton’s character, and the pressures on child carers as represented by Vi. Absent fathers is another – the results of their absence in particular – and in two out of the three instances we’re shown, the outcome isn’t good. How Lias’ child has reacted to his being away is again left up in the air, but for Troy the death of his father has left him rudderless and it’s even worse for grieving Aisha. Lillah is separated from her partner – she frequently argues with him on the phone – and resorts to drink for comfort, while it’s a safe assumption that Miranda’s anger is, at the very least, partly caused by her fractured background.
With his photographic background, Beard inevitably has a strong visual sense: the film has a cloudy, often gloomy, colour palette, occasionally relieved with startlingly brilliant seaside sunshine. But he also gets remarkable performances from his small but perfectly chosen cast, from a stripped back Samantha Morton with her long dirty hair, soft voice and inability to cope with real life, to the three impressive children. Of them, Bella Ramsey is outstanding, truly terrifying in her anger at the world.
Two For Joy is a sombre, emotional film, not necessarily one that will have you in floods of tears, but it will make you feel seriously contemplative afterwards. It paints a sorry picture of its corner of British society, underlined by its intimacy and powerful acting. That intimacy means it can happily be watched on the small screen – but watched it most certainly should be.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Freda Cooper. Follow me on Twitter.