Lovers Rock is the second part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axes series following on from Mangrove. Boy do we have a completely different film this time out.
It’s a Saturday sometime in the 80s. Samson preps his sound system for Blues dance while Martha (Amarah-Jae St.Aubyn) shimmies down her drainpipe. Franklin (Michael Ward), drenched in Brut, is primed to steal a heart. Red Stripe costs a pound. Sweat drips from the walls as hips lock to the rhythm of lovers’ rock, and souls are possessed by dub vibrations.
We follow Martha and Franklin for most of this story and their potential romance is a joy. Martha comes to the party excited after sneaking out on her Christian parents by said 2nd-floor drainpipe. Hhow she is getting back up via there I will never know. She meets with her friend Patti (Shaniqua Okwok) who becomes unimpressed with the company that is at the party and wants to leave. Franklin luckily convinces Martha to stay and we are all the more thankful for it.
McQueen takes us on a journey that has rarely been seen. A party that feels like a party. From the beginning of seeing the house and rooms getting set up for the evenings fun, we get a reminder of what a good house party was and should be like on screen. This is down to how McQueen shoots and stages his scenes, we see people chat and relax as you would expect at a party, we see them get up to dance and then as we get deeper into the festivities does the energy begin to full rise.
Deciding that less is more regarding dialogue, we almost get a documentary or home movie (very well shot home movie) feel. We weave around characters and interactions. Judging them for ourselves with next to no information regarding them except for our lead couple who we return to. Lovers Rock has a daydream feel. We are just catching glimpses of the full events as the camera lingers and sways away carelessly.
You will be hard-pressed not to be moving with the music during Lovers Rock, McQueen has made it impossible not to thanks to that camera work. You are in the party and you are experiencing this atmosphere. Even if on occasion it can be a tad threatening due to those are there.
We get to witness the dynamics of firstborn West-Indian British people with those who have emigrated from the West Indies recently. These immigrants try to impose themselves onto the party and the women. Attempting to show that this is their music and their night. It is up to the first generations to stand their ground and show that they have as much right to their heritage as the immigrants. It is a striking balance that McQueen can pull this off with so little dialogue. The actors using their physicality to show the audience what is fully going on.
Don’t be fooled into think that this is McQueen fully stepping out of his usual comfort zone, as he expertly threads the reason why this is happening in a house. Not able to have a place to call their own to dance and to just feel free. Young black people had to create their own place away from the “whites only” clubs. Though as we breeze through the 68 minutes of run time we become aware that although there are frustrations.
At this moment in time, on this night, fun needs and wants to be had. This group just want to enjoy themselves and McQueen joyously takes us there despite the efforts of a group of white men someway into the film. This inclusion doesn’t derail the film, it empowers it. The people in that house obviously care, but they want to live and inside they can, and it is wonderful.
Jacqueline Durran has worked marvels in Lovers Rock with the costumes as she has perfected that homemade look that would have been key in this era. You get a real sense of the late 70s/early 80s here. Without going into too much detail around what is played in this party. Honestly, it is just better to watch and enjoy it. The choices are so on point that you would hazard a guess that someone remembered one such party and sill remembered the entire playlist.
Lovers Rock is a great watch and the perfect film to follow Mangrove in this Small Axe series. So much is said, with so little dialogue in a film that will get you moving for almost an entire hour.
To view more of our reviews as we cover the London Film Festival 2020, please have a gander below!