An Essex tale told by the Nigerian who was central to it.


A written statement at the end of this film which has at the outset been described as based on a true story reveals more, something which, as it happens, was already known to me: it tells us that Farming is an autobiographical drama which draws on the life of its writer/director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. That being so, it is bizarre to have to report that this very well made film failed to work for me because I found the narrative challenged credibility. The story of the Nigerian youth named Enitan (the name or nickname by which the filmmaker was known) can be thought of as an example of truth being stranger than fiction, but, if it is to work for an audience, the unlikely events need to be presented in a way that, incredible though they may seem at first sight, explains them sufficiently to convince the viewer. It is here that for this member of the audience the screenplay falls short.


The first part of Farming works well. The time is 1967 and the title is found to be a reference to a feature of that time whereby many African parents studying in Britain farmed out their young children to foster parents. Scenes set in Tilbury show young Enitan (Zephan Hanson Amissah) and his two sisters in the care of the childless Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale). It is she rather than her lorry driver husband (Lee Ross) who is the key mover here, but she veers between racist language, favouritism and more general declarations of love while also encouraging Enitan to steal. Understandably unsettled, Enitan is no more at ease when his seemingly neglectful parents take their children on a trip to Nigeria where the rituals and life-style (the slaughter of animals included) disturb the boy still further and lead to his return to England.


The film then jumps to Enitan at the age of sixteen now played by Damson Idris. At secondary school he encounters a helpful teacher (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) but, instead of the narrative becoming a simple tale of aspiration and inspiration at this point, the boy’s life takes an unexpected turn. I should acknowledge here that it is certainly all too believable that the boy should be viciously attacked and humiliated by a group of white men led by Levi (John Dagleish) who call themselves the Tilbury Skins and also adopt the slogan ‘Keep Britain White’. Furthermore, one might believe that under pressure Enitan would accept orders to assist them, but one is amazed that this racist group should have the wish to make a companion of the man they call a coon. Even more one questions how Enitan could delude himself into believing that there was value in encouraging them to accept him when for that to happen he had to act in ways totally indistinguishable from theirs. Just as the contradictions in the outlook of Ingrid Carpenter are so extreme as to feel unpersuasive as written, the film never gets to convince us how, having come to hate being black, Enitan’s state of mind would be so extraordinary that he could see himself as a quasi-white brother to these skinheads and choose to endorse their racist views.


Because this is autobiographical, we know that there must be a positive outcome, but as presented here it feels sentimentalised and is rushed through. What is clear from Farming is that the adult Enitan has a real flair for filmmaking aided here by having Tariq Awar as editor and that he can obtain splendid performances (in a very good cast the child actor Zephan Hanson Amissah is particularly striking). Nevertheless, as the story developed I found it more and more difficult to suspend disbelief and to tell myself that it was basically true was just not enough. Anybody without that problem will probably be impressed, albeit harrowed, by this film.




Cast: Damson Idris, Kate Beckinsale, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Zephan Hanson Amissah, Jaime Winstone, John Dagleish, Cosmo Jarvis, Theo Barklem-Briggs, Ann Mitchell, Lee Ross, Zach Avery.


Dir Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Pro François Ivernel, Andrew Levitas, Michael London and Janice Williams, Screenplay Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ph Kit Fraser, Pro Des Miren Marañón, Ed Tariq Anwar, Music Ilan Eshkeri, Costumes Bex Crofton-Atkins.


Groundswell Productions/Logical Pictures/Metalwork Pictures/Montebello Productions-Lionsgate.
101 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 11 October 2019. Cert. 18.