15th May 2009

Andrea Arnold’s first film Red Road was set in Glasgow. Her second Fish Tank inhabits London’s East End. Not the fabled alleys of Whitechapel nor even the familiar parks of Hackney but further East where the white working class fled the slums in search of new jobs at Dagenham and the new houses that Harold MacMillan built. Now, where the edge of London meets the Essex marshes, it is home to the underclass that Thatcher and Blair built. A world of terrible deprivation – deprivation of speech, deprivation of feeling, deprivation of life. Here Arnold finds her heroine Mia(Katie Jarvis), fifteen years old, isolated from her peers, rowing constantly with her party loving single mother and her brattish younger sister. Every conversation is nasty brutish and short and Mia tries as hard as possible to be unlikeable. But she is as beautiful as the dawn and as Arnold’s camera captures her in her landscape, we are irresistibly drawn into her young life. Arnold’s first film was marred by too melodramatic a script but Fish Tank effortlessly takes the most ordinary of stories and turns it into a gripping plot.
Michael Hamburger takes up with Mia’s mother and the physical attraction between 15 year old girl and charming hunk is perfectly realised including a sex scene as moving as it is cliched. The final scenes of the film are unbearavbly painful and yet Arnold manages to salvage a credible happy end. This really is direction of the very highest order.

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