Second Coming

Review by Ashley Clark @_Ash_Clark

Directed by

Debbie Tucker Green

Starring

Idris Elba Kai Francis Lewis Nadine Marshall

Anticipation.

Always intriguing when a creative talent switches mediums.

Enjoyment.

Atmospheric and finely poised throughout. A refreshingly modern kitchen-sink fable.

In Retrospect.

Heralds the emergence of a major new filmmaking talent in Debbie Tucker Green.

An extremely intriguing and morally ambiguous south London psychodrama from Debbie Tucker Green.

As Stone Roses fans know all too well, titling one’s creative product after the miraculous return of Jesus Christ is no guarantee of quality. Thankfully, playwright Debbie Tucker Green – making her screenwriting and directing debut after 15 years of international success on the stage – fares a great deal better with her own Second Coming, a muted and disturbing family drama laced with ineffable metaphysical qualities.

The title refers to the central mystery upon which the sparse plot hinges. Welfare officer Jax (Nadine Marshall), who lives with her construction worker husband Mark (Idris Elba) and schoolboy son JJ (Kai Francis-Lewis) in a leafy south London suburb, discovers that she has fallen pregnant. Yet the identity of the father is a conundrum. It doesn’t seem to be Mark: in a series of sensitively-handled scenes, it’s made clear that the couple’s sex life has withered away despite their evident affection for one another.

So who is responsible? Did Jax cheat on Mark? If so, she’s not saying – and she reacts furiously when her best friend suggests so. Has Jax been visited by the Lord in some Lambeth-based inversion of Rosemary’s Baby? Or is the mystery simply a manifestation of Jax’s troubled mental state, perhaps provoked by the series of prior miscarriages that are subtly invoked in the script?

While the film is doubtless impressive as a portrait of a tight-knit family unravelling slowly, much of its impact derives from Marshall’s extraordinary performance as the troubled mother-to-be. Frequently framed in unscrupulous close-up, Marshall nails the trickiest of tasks: to animate an inscrutable introvert into a compelling locus for drama.

Though Second Coming is a highly original work, Jax’s pained, psychologically tumultuous reaction to her predicament — and the nonjudgemental manner in which it’s presented — recalls both the plight of Julianne Moore’s troubled housewife in Todd Haynes’ 1995 film, Safe, and the slow-motion social nightmare of a woman pregnant with her husband’s brother’s baby in Andrew Dosunmu’s underrated Mother of George from 2013.

Tucker Green’s talent for crafting rhythmic, naturalistic dialogue – and the aptitude of her excellent cast for delivering it – is evident throughout, as is her gift for evoking a specific cultural milieu. Jax and her family frequently switch to a specific brand of British-Jamaican patois when emotions run high.

Yet Second Coming is equally notable for its specifically cinematic, atmospheric qualities. The shallow-depth, gauzy cinematography is simultaneously calming and ominous, and comes courtesy of Urszula Pontikos who, having also shot Andrew Haigh’s Weekend from 2011 and Hong Khaou’s Lilting from 2014, is fast becoming a key player in a new strain of low-key British naturalism. Mark Eckersley’s elliptical, Boyhood-esque editing patterns, meanwhile, force the viewer to pay attention – Tucker Green couldn’t be less interested in spoon-feeding her audience.

Published 4 Jun 2015

Tags: Idris Elba

Anticipation.

Always intriguing when a creative talent switches mediums.

Enjoyment.

Atmospheric and finely poised throughout. A refreshingly modern kitchen-sink fable.

In Retrospect.

Heralds the emergence of a major new filmmaking talent in Debbie Tucker Green.

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