London Film Festival 2020 – Lovers Rock

The last film on my list brings the whole Festival to full circle as it ends with the second episode of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series named Lovers Rock. The film spans a single evening taking place at a house party in Ladbroke Grove and, much like Mangrove, serves as a safe place for the black community to gather. Following protagonist Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn), a young woman who sneaks out of her house to attend the party. The party is fun at first as she dances with her friend Patty but soon enough the darker undercurrents start to seep through as she is harassed by men at the party as well as a group of white men outside. Her experience ties in with the darker experiences of other partygoers, mainly women. Patty leaves because she doesn’t want to be left alone with a stranger and another woman, Cynthia, is raped by a man who had harassed Martha earlier.

Despite its short 68 minute running time, McQueen makes the best of this time by creating a complex intertwining of relationships in the short duration of events. Martha’s experience is one that spreads across many emotions from elation at attending the party with her best friend, Patty to the fear of being harassed by a fellow partygoer to the horror of the violence. The script written by McQueen and Courttia Newland is compact and wastes no time in getting into the rush of party preparation while allowing some time for the characters to naturally flourish in the second act before violence kicks off. This short snippet of time exposes us to a lot of characterisation and actually gives us a good idea of who Martha is and what kind of person she is. The shift in gender dynamic is brilliantly done as the women lead the party by dancing on their own but after the incredible “Silly Games” scene which I will discuss later, the party is overrun by the men who are frantic. As night goes on, the party becomes more aggressive and violent until the walls seem like they are closing in, making for a claustrophobic experience. The safe place doesn’t feel so secure any more to Martha.

Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn is brilliant as lead character, Martha. A normal woman who is excited to party with her friend but has a strength that means she isn’t afraid to stand up for herself. What St. Aubyn does so well is bringing out Martha’s character little by little through actions and mannerisms. When Cynthia is raped, Martha is unafraid to stand up for her and stop him. Even when he squares up to her and towers over her, she stands tall. You would not think that this is St. Aunbyn’s first leading role as she is so natural in the role. It’s a great character arc as well. From a timid young woman sneaking out to party to the final shot of her sneaking back in a d clearly feeling changed from her experience. We see the changes that she has experienced on her face in those final moments.

In the supporting role we have Micheal Ward as fellow partygoer, Franklyn, who proves to be a perfect match for St. Aubyn. The interaction between the two works perfectly as they bounce off each other. Franklyn acts as a fly on the wall to the party. He doesn’t partake in the men’s dancing and is dedicated to making sure Martha is safe despite having never met her before this night. Ward isn’t in it that much but his presence and protection can be felt when Martha is wandering around the party. The final scenes in which he is in where he encounters his boss who is unhappy that he brought Martha to the shop bring the microcosm of the party to the outside world. Franklyn serves as Martha’s guide for the party and arguably to life, introducing her to a world that she hasn’t encountered before.

The highlight scene is when Samson, the DJ, cuts the music to get the attendees to sing “Silly Games” by Janet Kay accapella and it is a wonderful choice. The partygoers keep dancing and create the rhythm together in a way that highlights the tightness of the community. McQueen really is a genius when it comes to intertwining art forms in his films and this is a great way of incorporating music in a way we haven’t seen before. Because the music has been so continuous as well it helped to slow the pace down for a little bit as the shift from fun to chaos ensues.

The music choices in Lovers Rock provides the ongoing flow for the episode and adds to the frantic nature of the party. An eclectic mix of lovers rock, reggae and blues, Lovers Rock is brimming with black music and it is a brilliant soundtrack. The hectic and continuing nature of the music becomes synonymous with the action as though it is playing an active role.

Lovers Rock closes the London Film Festival on the 18th October and will show on BBC One in the United Kingdom on

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