Following the screening of Tom Beard’s debut feature film ‘Two for Joy’, the audience at Islington’s Screen on the Green were given the opportunity to ask the cast questions. It was during this brief discussion that Samantha Morton, who plays the film’s grief-stricken mother, gave likely the most important statement of the evening. Responding to a question about whether British Cinema had a social responsibility to shine its torches and point its lenses into the corners of our society that politicians seem unwilling to show attention to, Morton made a clever point. It was clear to her that movies like Two for Joy are of vital importance in our increasingly divided day and age. They serve as a reminder that not everybody may be as fortunate as we are. She asked the audience to look around the room and to consider where it was the movie was being shown, the cost of the seats we were sat in, the price of the drinks in our hands. Perhaps by virtue of our social positioning, we had found ourselves sat together that Wednesday evening to watch a movie in peace. Our chairs were comfy. The food was brought to us. She reminded us that the marginalised people that British directors so often choose to champion are often the ones who, in the ‘real world’, are unlikely to go to the cinema. If they do, it won’t be an independent ‘lovely’ cinema, as she called it. They’re unlikely to be watching Two for Joy. The essence of her response was that whilst movies like this are important, they don’t tend to reach the people who they’re written in support of.
I wish that everybody in this country could sit down and watch Two for Joy. It’s the kind of movie, like Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, that illuminates an aspect of British society that really gets no publicity. Tom Beard’s script tackles the difficulties children face living with a parent who suffers with a mental health issue. Our Time, the charity sponsoring the film, informed us before screening that 3.4 million children in the UK are in this position. Not only must they face the stresses of school, not to mention their own personal lives, they must often also absorb the stresses and difficulties that their ill parent faces. It’s a dark and depressing situation compounded by the fact that both schools and the government seem to have little in the way of strategies for supporting these vulnerable young people. It seems that today it falls to filmmakers to raise awareness of these issues.
One of the saddest side-effects of being a young carer is that often your own childhood must be sacrificed in the quest to support the adult in your life. Two for Joy shows us the reality that occurs when the sole adult figure can barely manage to get out of bed. The young boy runs wild. The young girl suffers in her studies. Kids fall in with the wrong influences and get themselves into trouble. It’s a pattern that many will understand even if they have not experienced it themselves.
Given that this is his debut feature length movie, director Tom Beard delivers his story in a masterful manner. The writing shimmers and the story never feels as though it drags. Beard remarked himself that he is not a fan of exposition and the way we are thrown quickly into the lives of our characters means we have no time to feel anything other than discomfort as we watch the tragic situations of two young people, Troy and Vi, unfurl. Strong performances from Morton and Line of Duty’s Daniel Mays add a bit of well-known actor credibility, but it is really in the performances of Bella Ramsey (Miranda), Emilia Jones (Vi) and Badger Skelton (Troy) that draw you in. To deliver such mature and able performances so young is surely a sign that these three are likely to be names we hear more of over the coming years.
It is in the aesthetics and the composition that Two for Joy shines brightest. Beard is a photographer by trade and it seems as though he spent some time carefully planning the visual delivery of his painful tragedy. Each moment of film is postcard perfect. I found myself gorging on the colours and hues he so perfectly captured, and the sections away from the city, shot on some nondescript British coastline, were rich in their blues and greens. Two for Joy feels intimate, and this was only compounded by the revelation that much of it was shot in a place that Beard spent many of his childhood holidays. There was certainly an overriding sense of memory colouring the narrative, though it never strayed into mindless nostalgia.
Two for Joy is not an easy watch. It tackles issues of grief, depression and abandonment head on. It asks you to consider what others may be going through, especially the young people the elder generations can often be rather quick to throw hatred towards. Scenes of Morton strung out in bed on generic benzodiazepines will surely serve as a difficult reminder for those who have tackled mental health issues themselves. I guess this returns us to the question of what cinema is all about. Whilst on the one hand we all enjoy the escapism of Hollywood, there are many more less fantastical stories out there that surely we must confront. Sometimes it’s about holding a mirror up to the less pleasant parts of our society so that we can have some real conversations. Two for Joy is a wonderfully shot, poignant movie that does exactly this.
Two for Joy will be available on digital download platforms from 25th February
The film is available to pre-order via iTunes here.
Review by Alexander Sarychkin: twitter.com/inalexworld