Review: Fish Tank

British film, Fish Tank, the sophomore feature film from director Andrea Arnold (Red Road), was originally scheduled to be released in Australia in March, but distributors were forced to move the films theatrical release to May 27th. For once this serious rescheduling is a positive sign. When Fish Tank won Outstanding British Film at the BAFTAS in February this year, the film’s season in British cinemas was extended and expanded, so there simply weren’t enough prints of the film to be sent to Australia.

It is always good to hear that a small budget film has been given an opportunity to reach a wider audience, and even though it has meant a delay for Australian audiences, most will agree this incredible film was worth the wait.

Set in and around an Essex Estate in South England, this film focuses on 15 year old Mia (newcomer, Katie Jarvis) and the impact her mum’s new relationship has on her. Set in the same sort of council estates as shown in the recently released Harry Brown, instead of stereotyping the lippy and troublesome Mia as a juvenile delinquent with homicidal tendencies- the marching-song propaganda of British tabloids – Arnold shows how vulnerable the seemingly bolshy and aggressive teenagers who live in these housing project truly are.

Living with her single mum, Joanne (Kierston Wareing) and younger, more sociable sister, Tyler (a fabulous performance from newcomer, Rebecca Griffiths), Mia has been excluded from school and spends her days wandering the estate, drinking cheap booze and practicing her dance routines. Both quick-witted and quick-tempered, Mia isn’t a pleasant teenager, but then she doesn’t seem to have any adults that particularly care how she is or what she does, that is until Connor (Michael Fassbender, 300, Inglourious Basterds) turns up.

Connor, Joanne’s new boyfriend, brings a whole new dynamic into Mia’s life, he not only notices her, but he also seems interested in her, what she thinks and what she does. Connor is like no-one Mia has met before, he has a steady job and a car and he like to get out of the city into the countryside.

Arnold’s film, beautifully shot by cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Red Road, Brick Lane) is meant to be a piece of stark social realism. The tangled and increasingly complex relationship that develops between Mia and Connor is both disturbing and devastating, with a certain amount of sympathy allowed for both characters.

Mia is a unique character on film and Jarvis brings strength and fragility to her performance. While she has an excellent supporting cast, this film’s success is predominately on the back of Jarvis, who had never acted before. So the story goes Jarvis was spotted on a train station platform in Essex, by a casting agent for Arnold. Jarvis caught the agent’s eye because she was having a heated argument with her boyfriend at the time. A little bit of fate, maybe, but the end result is an amazingly powerful and immersing film. Not finely polished like a big budget film, Fish Tank’s ability to connect with audiences is reflected in the multiple awards the film, its director and its star have received.

Fish Tank is released nationally in Australia on the 27th May.

Director: Andrea Arnold

Cast: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, Harry Treadaway

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About Beth Wilson

A Brit based in Sydney, Beth is constantly fighting for an organised queuing system and the right to call chips, crisps. She can often be found working at film festivals around NSW, and has become accustomed to surviving on very little sleep. You can follow her on twitter at @bflwilson