A controlled and powerful film putting the spotlight on Jehovah’s Witnesses.


Molly Wright


Way back in 1962 the Relph-Dearden team made Life for Ruth. It was interesting without being one of the best of their films taking up social issues of the day (the racist drama Sapphire and the famed Victim dealing with homosexuality remain the best remembered of them). Life for Ruth centred on the consequences of belonging to a religious group with beliefs that proscribed blood transfusions. Now we have Apostasy, a remarkably assured and self-contained debut feature from writer-director Daniel Kokotajlo, which deals with the very same issue and does so even more compellingly.


Filmed in Manchester, it focuses on a family of three: the mother, Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran), has brought up two daughters, Luisa (Sacha Parkinson) and Alex (Molly Wright), to share her faith as a Jehovah's Witness and all three are steadfast believers. Nothing looks set to change until the older daughter, Luisa, reveals that she is pregnant and is accordingly expelled as an unmarried mother by the Church. The rules in such circumstances also require Ivanna to keep her distance from the daughter who so obviously needs her support at this time. Consequently, one waits to see how this unexpected conflict will affect Ivanna and Alex whose own loyalty to their Church may or may not be challenged.


Far from becoming melodramatic, Apostasy plays out with the utmost naturalism and it is no surprise to learn that it is the work of an insider in that Kokotajlo was himself a former Jehovah's Witness (that the Church refuses to approve the film in no way makes us doubt a work that feels hugely authentic). The use of an old ratio (1.56:1) adds to our impression that the people portrayed here live an enclosed life since their religious beliefs so totally colour all that they do and are allowed to do. The limited use of music further emphasises the sense of reality that is felt all the more forcibly because the main roles (including also a young Jehovah's Witness, Steven (Robert Emms) who hopes to marry Alex) are so convincingly written and played. The leading players are not familiar names to me but all of them give exceptionally fine performances.


Apostasy with its awareness of what flows from some of these beliefs is clearly presented as a critique of Jehovah's Witnesses, but it never portrays its members as villains. There is perhaps some lack of certainty as to how to close the film effectively, yet that hardly matters and there is no doubt whatever as to the success of this piece which puts before us a pitiable drama with the utmost conviction. I do, however, wonder if the material has quite the potential to yield a masterpiece (hence a rating that is less than five stars). But my feeling that this is a small-scale work may not be shared by all and either way Kokotajlo's debut deserves the warmest of welcomes.




Cast: Siobhan Finneran, Sacha Parkinson, Molly Wright, Robert Emms, Poppy Jhakra, Claire Hackett, Jacqueline Pilton, Wasim Zakir, James Quinn.


Dir Daniel Kokotajlo, Pro Marcie MacLellan and Andrea Cornwell, Screenplay Daniel Kokotajlo, Ph Adam Scarth, Pro Des John Ellis, Ed Napoleon Stratiogiannakis, Music Matthew Wilcock, Costumes Lance Milligan.

Creative England/BBC Films/BFI/Oldgarth Media/Frank & Lively/iFeatures-Curzon Artificial Eye.
95 mins. UK. 2017. Rel: 27 July 2018. Cert. PG.