Director: Sarah Gavron
Starring: Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, D’angelou Osei Kissiedu
Sarah Gavron’s first film since Suffragette (called Rocks) takes us to modern-day South London, and a remarkable story told by a young cast of newcomers.
Bukky Bakray stars as 15-year-old Olushola, nicknamed Rocks by her social group after standing up for a friend.
A Nigerian-British school student living in Hackney with her mother and 7-year-old brother Emmanuel, Rocks notices a difference in her mother’s demeanour as she gets ready for school.
When she returns, she finds a note saying her mother has left to ‘clear her head’.
Familiar with this situation, Rocks carries on as normal, but as it becomes clear Mum may not be coming back, she tries to care for Emmanuel while facing a life on the streets, the friends around her doing what they can to help.
The story is woven from the fabric of modern London – the music, the slang, lives lived through a phone screen.
This circle of friends hang out on a rooftop, displaying the varying fortunes of the Capital’s skyscrapers and tower blocks.
It’s an environment created by the young cast, who bring an authenticity that, at times, gives the film a documentary feel.
Rocks is a celebration of female strength
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Through her school life, we see the Darwinian nature of inner-city aspiration – one of Rocks’ school friends states her ambition to be a lawyer, which is quickly dismissed by the teacher.
Rocks herself is adept at art, something she has translated into a potential career as a makeup artist.
Despite this young woman’s world crumbling
The film becomes particularly affecting when Rocks begins to buckle under the pressure of an indifferent city, realising there may be no help coming and having to maintain her own morale while caring for Emmanuel.
Friends try to help out, with classmate Sumaya (Kosar Ali) being a particular source of joy and sisterhood throughout.
However, Bakray’s wonderful performance puts a wall around her character, a natural defender who finds it hard to ask for help herself.
As traumatic as it is seeing someone so young harden to a situation she should never be faced with, it’s also joyous to see the resilience of her world. D’angelou Osei Kissiedu’s Emmanuel is everything that’s special about childhood, maintaining a sense of play and wonder while Rocks worries about survival.
The third act offers no easy answers, but finds some beauty in the hardship.
That, ultimately, is what makes Rocks quite special – a celebration of female strength, told in a way that never comes close to being trite or patronising.
In a less crowded cinema environment, one can only hope that Rocks gets the attention it truly deserves.
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Will you be watching Rocks?
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