Second Coming: A class act
by Thomas Humphrey
- A refreshing take on the British experience plays itself out in the home and work environments, and in the greenest of English vales, with a religious, West Indian twist
Second Coming [+see also:
film profile], which is part of the 44th International Film Festival Rotterdam's Bright Future section, sees Debbie Tucker Green continue her collaboration with Hillbilly Films. Together, they remain clearly committed to enhancing the representation of black people. Simply increasing the number of black people on screen, however, would be pointless. Instead, Green makes two excellent steps.
She pulls black culture out of the background and out of the realms of stereotypes. In Second Coming, black characters are central, and they escape the street-wise clichés. The music we hear is also consistently that of black British artists; one song announces: "Ain't nothing gritty here." That sums up Green's film nicely.
She also gives a masterfully naturalistic space to her actors, and they reward her with stellar performances (including a strapping, boisterously playful but affectionate act by Idris Elba - a man easily handsome enough to play Bond). What results is refreshingly observant: a middling black family leads a normally complex life. They blow hot and cold, and demonstrate how universal non-white characters are, too.
Second Coming is beautifully nuanced by the Anglo-West Indian culture that it centres on. Green expertly brings the middle-class black British experience to the screen. The dialogue she writes has a delightfully accurate tint of the syntactically different, elliptical West Indies dialect, and the plot also magnificently draws out elements of that culture.
The story revolves around the Second Coming (or the reincarnation of Jesus). And like a superb realisation of Malcolm X's teachings, God's Child is definitely black this time. As such, Green adds a smart spin on the often devout culture she depicts. Like critic Tracy Butts, Green also explores the prominence of the reverenced mother figures in black culture. She follows a (literally deified) mother, Jacqui (or "Jax" for short), through her captivatingly bittersweet life and represents the emotional pressures on her by repeatedly staging a recurring vision: A Biblical rain falls on Jax, as she shuts herself away in her bathroom and blood streams from her nose.
Jax is equally celebrated, though. In a way that connotes the 1960s "black is beautiful" movement, the relatively unknown (but previous Green collaborator) Nadine Marshall fills the screen with her exceptional natural beauty. As the mother in this new Nativity narrative, she has a breathtaking fecundity about her, too. Her central place in the story also highlights Green's admirable feminist agenda. At no point in Second Coming do we see violence against the female form (something that seems ritualistically prolific elsewhere).
Jacqui is just a (deified) mother. The family is just a family. The film is just high drama, and doesn't rely on simple tricks. That is the point: Second Coming is an exceptional piece of drama about a normal black mother's experience. It is not exceptional because she is black. Green has therefore made a compelling argument for her place and her mission in film.