Two For Joy as a film is a rare occurrence. It hovers over the middle ground between glory and failure, and is all the more frustrating for it. The film, directed by Tom Beard, follows a working-class family rocked by the death of the father. It comprises of struggling mother Aisha (Samantha Morton), tearaway young son Troy (Badger Skelton), and conscientious teenage daughter Violet (Emilia Jones). Violet convinces her mother to take them away to their seaside caravan, where they encounter the caretaker Lias (Daniel Mays), his sister Lillah (Billie Piper), and her daughter Miranda (Bella Ramsey). Tensions between the group build until the story concludes in a shocking denouement.
There is some impressive cinematography in the film. One of Tom Beard’s talents as a director is his ability to evoke the familiarity of British life: an empty ready meal; the blare of Saturday night TV; the shine of a corner-shop in the gloom — but he comes into his own in the later stages of the motion picture, during the transition from an oppressive domestic world to the coastal scenes. The crux of this transition, when the camera pans up from a dingy underpass to the blue-green light fading over the motorway, like a kid looking up into the sky from a car, is wonderfully striking.
The directing is at its best after this. Late evening hangs in deep purple over the coast like a Turner painting; mackerel glisten in a fish box; a seaside carnival glitters in a lonely fashion as Violet is tossed about on a ride; bruises decorate Miranda’s shoulder as if the sky has leached onto her skin. However, after an hour or so I felt that the pacing of the film slowed, and I was relieved when it eventually began to pick up again.
Often people forget to comment on costumes unless they are a superhuman endeavour, but in neglecting this aspect of film they are doing the field a disservice. Although the costume department in Two For Joy haven’t reinvented the wheel, there are some very clever moments. Miranda stomps around in pink trainers and a swimsuit that gleams like fish scales, some wonderful foreshadowing to the film’s ending. Her bratty apparel is heavily influenced by her mother Lillah (bleached hair, hoops), whereas Violet is barefaced and dressed neatly, unlike her mother Aisha, whose clothes appear unwashed and oversized.
The young talent in Two For Joy is standout. Bella Ramsey’s portrayal of Miranda as a stubborn, stroppy pre-teen girl who befriends Troy only to bully him, is wonderfully nuanced. Emilia Jones’ performance as Violet is subtle and measured. I did feel though – and this wasn’t entirely her fault – that it verged on the wrong side of underplayed. There is a trend at the moment for bare scripts — ones that rely on empty space and meaningful looks, and they work better in some films than others. What there was of the script was very well-written but a bit skinny.
Billie Piper and Samantha Morton, as a far more experienced actresses, can carry this type of script far better than a young actress. Piper’s Lillah tries being tough and matter-of-fact, but you get the sense that she is actually a far more lighthearted being. Piper also handled the implications that Lillah had just left a fraught relationship well — the material felt fresh. Morton, with her lethargic stare and fretful face, was genuinely frustrating. I wanted to shake her for Violet’s sake at times, and hold her hand at others.
Two For Joy is worth seeing. If only Beard had pushed the boat out just a little further, it would have been truly striking.