Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"With impressive, performances all round, this is a film that grips throughout despite its slow pace." | Photo: IFC Films

When one is pregnant, the most important thing is to stay calm and avoid stress. Finding out about it unexpectedly is not a good start. For Charlotte (Tamara Lawrance) it's all the more traumatic because she never planned to have children and there's a history of illness in her family. Loving partner Ben (Edward Holcroft) talks her into it, but then he's killed in a tragic accident. Overwhelmed by grief, Charlotte is taken in by his mother Margaret (Fiona Shaw) and step-brother Thomas (Jack Lowden), but as time goes by and it becomes clear that they don't want her to leave, she becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

Pregnancy can, of course, also interfere with one's thinking. Dizziness, nausea and disorientation don't seem all that remarkable. Even hallucinations, she's assured, can be caused by normal changes. And though no-one mentions it, bereavement can also trigger severe short term mental health problems. Despite these symptoms, however, Charlotte comes across as a rational, level-headed person. Lawrance makes us believe in her, which is vital as she is subjected to an increasing campaign of gaslighting by everyone she comes into contact with. The viewer experiences some of this too. Are we crazy to trust her? Is she, really, the unstable one, maybe insane?

As she wanders through the family's remote mansion like a trapped bird in an outsize aviary, director Joe Marcantonio rounds out the other characters, making them so human that, even as the situation grows more extreme, their actions continue to make sense and may inspire some sympathy. Shaw is superb as the mother who is, of course, also struggling with bereavement, as well as the legacy of a troubled life, and whose longing for a grandchild who might remind her of the son she's lost is wholly understandable. Her monstrousness, rooted in part in her experience as a member of the aristocracy who feels a duty to her lineage resting heavily on her shoulders, is intertwined with her own awful suffering, so that even Charlotte feels pity for her sometimes.

Thomas is a more difficult character and Marcantonio allows a good bit of time to go by before offering any explanation for his intense loyalty to a woman who treats him more like a servant than a son. initially approachable and considerate, he gradually comes to seem like the kind of nice guy who will turn round at some point and be angry that his unselfish behaviour hasn't profited him, but with Charlotte desperate to cultivate him as an ally, we are kept guessing as to how things will develop between them.

Kindred is beautifully shot with a slightly muted palette which emphasises the size of the rooms in the mansion, the grey skies outside and, by contrast, Charlotte's blackness. Though much of what we see is constructed like a high end horror film, there's a deeper horror at the heart of it which hinges on her outsider status and the long, worldwide history of black women being labelled mentally unstable by more powerful white people, having decisions about their fertility made on their behalf and even having their children taken from them. It's impossible to imagine that our educated, savvy heroine would not be aware of this, that it would not influence her perspective on what's happening around her. It's this that gives the film its power and makes it both more interesting and more disturbing than similar films with white heroines.

With impressive, nuanced performances all round, this is a film that grips throughout despite its slow pace. You may decide early on that you know where it's going, but the ending still makes an impact.

Reviewed on: 06 Nov 2020
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A woman who is taken in by her partner's family after his unexpected death comes to believe that they do not have her best interests at heart.
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Director: Joe Marcantonio

Writer: Joe Marcantonio, Jason McColgan

Starring: Tamara Lawrance, Chloe Pirrie, Fiona Shaw, Jack Lowden, Anton Lesser, Edward Holcroft, Kiran Sonia Sawar

Year: 2020

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: UK


Black Nights 2020

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