A decidedly personal debut which has a distinctive character.


Bobbi Jene Smith 


In this first feature film, Georgia Parris, who is both writer and director, builds on her interest in dance. She does so by not only making her central character, Charlotte (Bobbi Jene Smith), a dancer but by opening the film with an extended sequence showing dancers being rehearsed by her. This provides a striking introduction because they are not exponents of classical ballet but are trying out ideas in which dance directly expresses drama and it is entirely apt that the camera largely ignores full-length body shots to focus on close-ups that capture individual movements. Here Parris seems to know exactly where to place the camera.


Towards the close of Mari, there is a dance sequence of a rather different kind since it comes across as a dream. Even so, this dance element is overall less central than I had expected, Mari being at heart a family drama. Its chief characteristic is to be found not in anything to do with dance but in the tale being told very much from a female perspective. Early on Charlotte is called away from the rehearsals, rehearsals which mark a development in her career as a leader devising a work with her dancers. The summons is to attend the deathbed of her grandmother (Paddy Glynn) who, rather oddly, is the film's titular figure. However, Mari's past history will unexpectedly become significant as the story unfolds.


Nevertheless, the main focus is on the other family members: Charlotte herself, her sister Lauren (Madeleine Worrall), her mother Margot (Phoebe Nicholls), her brother-in-law Rohan (Peter Singh) and her young nephew (Reuben Kell). The time they spend together awaiting Mari's death reveals various underlying tensions, not least between the sisters. The fact that Charlotte has gone off to devote herself to her career plays a part in this, but so does Charlotte's recent discovery that she is pregnant and is unsure what she really feels about that. As writer, Parris convincingly explores the half-hidden resentments within the family and the conflict that can be felt when domestic demands and a commitment to art collide.


The tone in Mari is deliberately quiet and even the resolution when it comes is understated. That ensures that any sense of melodrama is totally avoided, but Parris as director tells the tale rather stolidly with as yet less instinct for placing the camera during the main narrative than in the dance introduction. For that matter, the dance dream which ought to encapsulate the drama doesn't quite do that failing to come off fully despite the interesting music score by Peter Gregson. On balance, then, Mari is a work of promise rather than of fulfilment, but it's a piece that feels genuinely individual and one waits with interest to see what Parris will offer next.




Cast: Bobbi Jene Smith, Madeleine Worrall, Phoebe Nicholls, Peter Singh, Paddy Glynn, Will Thompson, Nicholas Bruder, Reuben Kell, Mitchell Mullen, Heather Coombs.


Dir Georgia Parris, Pro Emma Duffy, Screenplay Georgia Parris, Ph Adam Scarth, Pro Des Bobbie Cousins, Ed Napoleon Stratogiannakis, Music Peter Gregson, Costumes Holly Rebecca.


BFI/Intermission Films/BBC Films/Boudica Films/Microwave Films/Small Town Films-Verve Pictures.
95 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 21 June 2019. Cert. 12A.