Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Arnold has never been one to shy away from the realities of poverty and that clear-sighted view is in evidence here."

Vulnerability and ferocity buzz together in Natalie Press’ unpredictably magnetic performance as a young single mum at the heart of Andrea Arnold’s 2005 Oscar-winning short - and it’s worth noting the writer/director was up against stiff competition from Nacho Vigalondo’s 7:35 In The Morning and Taika Waititi’s Two Cars, One Night that year.

We meet Zoë as she’s cantering down a communal stair in her nightie, her baby boy in arms, her bare feet slapping against the linoleum and with her three young daughters trailing behind her. She’s in lioness mode, about to have a cat fight with a neighbour over which kid did what to whose. This is just the start of this day-in-the-life drama, which is filled with these sorts of small explosions that Zoë tries to navigate.

Copy picture

Arnold has never been one to shy away from the realities of poverty and that clear-sighted view that would mark out the likes of Red Road and Fish Tank is in evidence here. The kids haven’t been fed all day and all Zoë has to offer them, including the baby, is sugar, with the stern instruction to her eldest girl, who looks only about six: “Not too much, share it out.” Zoë may be a long way from being a great mother but Arnold sees and shows her complexity. Barely into adulthood herself, she’s also barely coping but somehow she is finding the energy to keep on going. That energy is matched by cinematographer Robbie Ryan, whose impressive ability to shoot with pace and movement was already on display

When her ex Dave (Danny Dyer, all Jack the lad charm) pulls up in his car and asks if she wants to go for a drink, we might not agree with her decision to take him up on it, but we can understand where it comes from. It’s a precious moment of escape for Zoë even if it does mean leaving her brood in the car park outside. This, in itself, is indicative of the complexity Arnold presents. While there’s no doubt leaving young children to fend for themselves at night in a pub car park at night is a long way from being a great decision, it stems from the fact that Zoë wants to be nearby just in case, rather than leaving them home alone.

The director is across the details of a woman desperately spinning the plates of her own neediness and responsibility. Dyer’s Dave is also no one-note character, even though he might appear that way to begin with. Arnold’s ability with the children, too, cannot be understated as we see the oldest girl adopt the mothering role as best as she can, despite her own role model being poor. This is a film that cares about its characters and Arnold shows that they care too, even if they do have a funny way of showing it.

Reviewed on: 07 May 2024
Share this with others on...
Wasp packshot
The day in the life of a single mum and her kids.

Director: Andrea Arnold

Writer: Andrea Arnold

Starring: Natalie Press, Danny Dyer, Jodie Mitchell

Year: 2003

Runtime: 26 minutes

Country: UK


Search database:

If you like this, try:

Fish Tank