MOVIE REVIEW: SECOND COMING / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR: DEBBIE TUCKER GREEN / SCREENPLAY: DEBBIE TUCKER GREEN / STARRING: NADINE MARSHALL, IDRIS ELBA, KAI FRANCIS LEWIS, SHARLENE WHYTE / RELEASE DATE: MAY 15TH
Second Coming is the directorial debut of debbie tucker green (she spells her name in lower case and so shall we), award-winning playwright and screenwriter, and given her résumé you would probably expect a female-centric drama full of gritty realism. These elements are present, but there is something else going on that separates this film from the multitude of others claiming to show a true slice of modern British life and culture.
Jax (Marshall) is a working mother with a normal, albeit fairly routine, life. Comfortable and surrounded by friends and family, everything changes when she discovers she’s pregnant. Unable to talk to an increasingly frustrated best friend and drifting apart from her husband, Jax begins to suffer from strange visions as her mental stability slowly crumbles.
green’s film is a masterclass in subtlety, harnessing performances from her cast that convey more from what’s not said than what is, and adopting an observational, almost documentary style in her direction. Marshall exudes a quiet power as Jax, giving little away to those around her while indulging the viewer with her most intimate moments. The stress of her unplanned situation seems to etch itself on her face as the film progresses, as if the strain of her fatigue and worry is leaving some tangible clue to her predicament that is clear and yet at the same time hidden. It is a role that while empathetic never becomes pitiful, due in some part to Jax’s apparently prickly persona. As for Idris Elba, he dominates scenes with his usual charisma but manages to avoid slipping into stereotype as the “bad husband”. Instead Mark is patient, supportive and diplomatic, only exploding with pent-up emotion when pushed as far as he can go in the best scene of the film; excruciatingly drawn out minutes as Mark releases his anger while the camera observes awkwardly from the corner of the room, seemingly unsure whether it should leave or continue to watch.
This directing technique is one drawn from green’s natural home in the theatre. Everything that happens in Second Coming is played out on screen, good or bad, laid bare for the audience to see. This generates both an unavoidable intimacy with the characters but also leads to some languorous and occasionally plodding scenes that become a little cloying.
This brings us to the problem; the title. It is impossible not to draw conclusions very early on as to how the story might play out. The narrative so intricately woven and the truth so slowly revealed that it feels clumsy to name the film Second Coming. That and something in what is almost the final shot of the film feels a little forced, as if the intrigue and mystery that has surrounded Jax and her development needs to be hammered home bluntly. There is also a coldness to her character, a sense of being unapproachable that at times makes it difficult to support her.
Those criticisms aside, this is an excellent debut film from someone with a clear understanding of how to not only write great characters and dialogue, but also how to film them. This is an involving, engaging drama and green’s ability to place the audience right in the centre of it should not be underplayed. It is a rare talent reminiscent of Shame and 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, and for that she is definitely one to watch.