When you think of Essex, a number of things come to mind.
It would be easy to drag up some cultural stereotypes but that’s prejudice and we don’t swing that way.
Oh alright: white stiletto heels, teen pregnancies and dumb blondes and chavs.
While there is more to Essex you won’t really find it in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. Yes, on the whole the film is borderline amazing but it’ll pretty much show you everything you’d expect to see in a film set in Essex. But it does have a few surprises up it’s velure tracksuit sleeve.
The film follows the teenage confusion of 15-year-old Mia who lives on a council estate in Essex. When Connor (Michael Fassbender) begins dating Mia’s deadbeat mother (Kierston Wareing), Mia isn’t sure whether she wants him as a father figure, a friend or more.
The depressing tower blocks could have been visually unappealing no matter how ‘raw’ they are. Fortunately, Arnold moves swiftly, preferring handheld work which gives the film a kinetic energy and means it’s heartbeat never really slows. She makes the Essex countryside feel undiscovered to Mia and isn’t afraid to venture outside the concrete.
If you read other reviews then firstly, why? Aren’t we good enough for you? Secondly, you’ll probably see this is regularly compared to Ken Loach movies with it’s kitchen sink, gritty realism. It’s probably more of a weird mash-up of Lolita, Nil By Mouth and Billy Elliott with some Shane Meadows in there too.
Mia is portrayed utterly convincingly by total newcomer, Katie Jarvis. There’s loneliness and vulnerability crossed with fierce independence and bravery; Mia is a great part to play and it has already garnered Jarvis an Edinburgh Film Festival award.
We’re hoping she sticks with acting for a while longer because Jarvis is unpredictable and unbelievably fearless as Mia. With dreams of becoming a dancer, Mia tries out for a dance job in a questionable mens’ club when she’s not headbutting other girls and getting wasted.
Fassbender is the epitomy of charm as Connor, having both Mia and her mother well and truly under the thumb. He tows the line between decent man and predator though and is unnerving to watch as his true nature is revealed.
An utter scene stealer is another unknown, Rebecca Griffiths as Mia’s kid sister, Tyler. As foul mouthed as her sister, she is often used as comic relief but is not to be overlooked, Griffiths has great timing and believability.
The dialogue is very realistic but if you’re not from Essex then you’ll hardly believe that people really speak that way to each other. It pretty much sets the tone for the movie when in the first 5 minutes someone gets called a c**t. The language becomes comical and thank God for that because there’s not a lot to laugh about here.
The last half hour is a shocker; I won’t give away the details but the build up is so good and so subtle that you’ll reach the end of the film and wonder how the hell you got there. Gradually getting darker and darker, it’s not an easy going movie and it’s maybe even a little longer than it need be but overall it’s a fantastic British movie.