Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Sarah Gavron's Rocks will compete for the Golden Shell
"The camera is, literally, down with the kids, at their eye level, drinking in their mayhem, their laughter and their viewpoint." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Sarah Gavron's latest film immerses us in the world of London teenage girlhood, courtesy of her British-Nigerian protagonist Rocks (Bukky Bakray, making a strong impression in her debut role). The name suggests either hardness or, perhaps, someone who is pretty considered to be whatever word kids are using for cool these days. Rocks is both of these things and, as we come to discover as her life gets tough, a whole lot more.

She's an upbeat kid, with a strong circle of friends, including best mate Sumaya (Kosar Ali) Agnes (Ruby Stokes),  Yawa (Afi Okaidja), Khadijah (Tawheda Begum) and Sabina (Anastasia Dymitrow) - a diverse group who bowl around school like a ball of decibel-breaking energy and, importantly, have one another's backs.

Rocks' family unit also seems tight when we're introduced to it, with a loving mum Funke (Layo-Christina Akinlude) and typical seven-year-old kid brother Emmanuel (D'angelou Osei Kissiedu) but, as so many campaigns, including today's World Mental Health Day remind us, depression is not always obvious. When Rocks discovers her mum has abandoned the pair of them to "clear her head", leaving only a note and some cash for food, it's clear this isn't the first time it has happened. It's also clear that she is going to do everything she can to make sure the authorities don't find out, for fear of being split up from Emmanuel.

We follow what happens over a week, as she tries to protect her brother from the worst impact of his mother being absent, all the while trying to carry on as usual with her friends, who are becoming increasingly concerned. The screenplay, co-written by Theresa Ikoko (in tribute, partially to her own big sister) and Claire Wilson, was developed with the help of workshops attended by the young cast - and it shows. The slang and rhythm of the dialogue flows as naturally as it would in any London school, as the kids hang out, create havoc or backchat the teachers. More importantly, the friendship feels real, no doubt in part because it mirrors that which built up between the actors as they workshopped the film. And if Bakray anchors the action like a force of nature, she is supported by a range of grace notes from a young cast who all make their mark. Hélène Louvart's camera is, literally, down with the kids, at their eye level, drinking in their mayhem, their laughter and their viewpoint.

There are grim moments here, not least when Rocks finds herself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea as she struggles to keep a roof over her head and Emmanuel's - but this film is as much about the importance of friendship as it is failures of the system. It's nice, too, to see parents portrayed as broadly positive and accepting for once. The hope that remains at the end of the film may be tinged with melancholy and a need for acceptance, but it remains, like Rocks, steadfast and believable.

Reviewed on: 10 Oct 2019
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A young girl is determined to keep the fact that there mother has left her and her younger brother alone from the authorities, through fear of being separated from him.
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Director: Sarah Gavron

Writer: Theresa Ikoko, Claire Wilson

Starring: Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, D'angelou Osei Kissiedu, Shaneigha-Monik Greyson, Ruby Stokes, Tawheda Begum, Afi Okaidja, Anastasia Dymitrow, Sarah Niles, Layo-Christina Akinlude, Sharon D. Clarke, Islah Abdur-Rahman, Shola Adewusi, Mohammad Amiri, Brie-Morgan Appleton

Year: 2019

Runtime: 93 minutes

Country: UK

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