Review: Two for Joy
by Vittoria Scarpa
- The debut feature film by English photographer Tom Beard is a well-executed drama on the devastating impact of a mother’s depression on her two teenage children
“We all lost him, not just you”. In Tom Beard’s Two for Joy [+see also:
film profile], it’s the slightly-built, 15 year old Violet who finds herself shouldering the burden of a diminished family devastated by grief following the death of her father. In the running for the Golden Olive Tree award at the 20th Lecce European Film Festival having already been scooped a prize at the Edinburgh IFF, this intense, first full-length film by the English photographer, who has previously put his name to award-winning music videos and shorts, plunges us into the home and into the daily life of a family that is fast falling apart. Beard explores devastating family dynamics, delivering solid blows to the stomach while demonstrating extraordinary, underlying sensitivity.
We don’t know how or when the father died, but we are there to witness the consequences of this loss. We see a mother, Aysha, who has slipped into depression (portrayed by an exceptional, damaged and burdened Samantha Morton); an uncontrollable younger brother called Troy (child actor Badger Skelton who starred in the BBC series, Doctor Who, amongst other projects); and in the midst of all this is teenager Violet (Emilia Jones, an actress as of the age of 8) who tries to coax her mother out of bed and to get her brother to take a sedative while simultaneously studying for her exams. “You’re her slave!”, Violet’s school friends tell her when she inevitably has to go home to see if her mum needs anything. In the meantime, Troy spends his days fishing (though once he’s caught them, he gives them a kiss and then throws them back into the water), tearing along on his bike and getting himself into trouble. When pursuing a renowned bully, he somehow ends up taking part in an armed robbery, something which will come back to bite him at a later date.
Violet manages to convince her mother to spend a few days by the sea in the caravan which belonged to their father and which has stood empty since his death. There’s a change of scenery, the sun comes out (albeit only for a while), the family escape the suffocating four walls of the house and we begin to see other characters coming onto the scene: the likeable and paternal campsite manager, Lias (Daniel Mays), his sister Lillah (Billie Piper) and her daughter, Miranda (Bella Ramsey), who’s roughly the same age as Troy. Miranda, who has own cross to bear as a result of a controversial father figure, will ultimately become the driving force of a sequence of events which will end in tragedy. Furious, unstoppable and followed closely by Beard’s camera who tracks her nervous movements and her tough and almost frightening facial expressions to great effect, Miranda soon makes friends with Troy and the union of the two youngsters is predictably explosive.
The viewer feels an overarching sense of danger when watching this film; an imminent danger that lurks behind each and every corner for these very young characters who are left to themselves, unguided, and whose parents are either absent or aren’t up to the job, for whatever reason. On the faces of the young protagonists we read traces of unhappy childhoods and the heavy burden of too many responsibilities. On those of the adults, we read inadequacy, lack of awareness, selfishness… In some respects, it’s a coming of age tale for all parties because from that seaside weekend onwards, life will never be the same again for any of them. This is a no holes barred exploration of grief, but it also leaves room for hope; a film which is spot on from a visual point of view and is lent a tragic authenticity by its excellent cast.
(Translated from Italian)
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