15th October 2020

A whistle-stop tour of heartbreak, family, and solidarity – Rocks reviewed

Vibrancy and dynamism of growing up in London leap off the screen in this coming-of-age gem, writes Jonathan Hosking
A whistle-stop tour of heartbreak, family, and solidarity – Rocks reviewed
Photo: Glenn Copus

‘Real queens fix each others’ crowns’.

Rocks is a remarkable film.

Helmed by seasoned British director Sarah Gavron (Suffragette, 2015) and written by playwright Theresa Ikoko (Girls, Soho Theatre, 2015) and Claire Wilson, the film is a perfect storm of a tightly woven script and an electric cast.

The story follows teenage Shola as her livelihood is threatened when her mental health suffering mother suddenly disappears. Rocks (as she is known by her friends) is left to take care of her younger brother, while balancing schoolwork, social life, and ambitions of becoming a makeup artist. When Social Services threaten to separate them, she does everything she can to preserve whatever family she has left.

First and foremost, the performances are outstanding. Bukky Bakray, as the eponymous heroine, brings a prolific amount of maturity. There is a raw sense of compassion and resilience brought to Rocks’ character – hard to believe that it’s her debut performance. Other standouts are Kosar Ali’s playground philanthropist Sumaya, and Rocks’ younger brother D’angelou Osei Kissiedu. Both exhibit a significant range for being such young performers.

Audiences will appreciate the creative team’s efforts in encouraging the cast to improvise, using a great deal of their dialogue in the finished cut. This cements the film’s authenticity and realism, pinnacle to producing such a competent coming-of-age film.

The music also plays a significant role in the film. It’s collection of grime and hip hop serve as a beating connection between the girls’ youthful energy and the vibrant London backdrop.

Rocks is exemplary as a recognition of black female empowerment. We are shown the ranks of Rocks’ support network, from teachers, neighbours, and, most importantly, friends, who all put an arm out for the struggling teenager. Even the colourful matriarch Grandmother Omotoso offers Rocks advice, helping her situation. There is an infectious amount of love and care on screen. This makes it impossible to leave the cinema without an ear-to-ear grin.

The film falters slightly is in its two-dimensional depictions of the characters on the periphery of the main gang. There are remnants of interesting personalities, but they remain sorely underdeveloped. When the group scenes do play out, however, the cast comes alive. Whether talking about boys or food-fighting at school, there is a real sense of warmth and playfulness. I challenge anyone not to break a smile.

After making its mark at the Toronto Film Festival, I hope the film has enough legs to secure a BAFTA nomination. Ikoko, Wilson, and Gavron should without question be in strong contention for writing and directing, no less as the Awards Season always lacks greater diversity.

The film’s vibrancy and dynamism leap off the screen as it takes you on a whistle-stop tour of heartbreak, family, and solidarity throughout the capital.

In a time when cinema is in desperate need of support, I urge you to seek it out on the big screen. You will not be disappointed.


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