Two for Joy

 

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A demanding debut that all connoisseurs of fine acting should note.

 
Two for Joy

Samantha Morton

 

For his first feature film - one on which he is both writer and director - Tom Beard has been uncompromising. The story that he has chosen to tell may ultimately supply a touch of hope, but Two for Joy (the title borrowed from the nursery rhyme) is surely an ironical one since this is a very downbeat portrayal of troubled lives. Initially it looks set to be the story of one family in the wake of bereavement. Aisha (Samantha Morton) is a widow overcome by depression who often sleeps the day away. Hostile to the idea of bringing in the social services, she has come to rely on her 15-year-old daughter Vi (Emilia Jones) to look after the family. A particular concern is her other child, Troy (Badger Skelton), who is younger and who is rebellious and difficult to control.

 

Having established the characters, Two for Joy takes the family to the coast to a caravan that had belonged to the father. The site, rather run down and oddly empty, has as its caretaker Lias (Daniel Mays) who introduces his sister Lillah (Billie Piper) who is living there. Lillah's child, Miranda (Bella Ramsay), quickly becomes a companion for Troy, but this is not a good thing because this forceful, stubborn young girl is even more of a handful than Troy. While Lillah and Lias bicker, we see that Miranda is likely to be a bad influence on Tory and, indeed, in due course tragedy will strike.

 

In telling his sad tale, Beard keeps melodrama at bay opting instead for everyday realism. The style he adopts is not far from minimalism with understatement the order of the day. While Tim Sidell's photography makes good use of the location, what really holds us in Two for Joy is the strength of the acting. One expects fine work from Samantha Morton who totally inhabits the enclosed world of the depressive Aisha and Daniel Mays too is firmly established as a reliable actor. Consequently, what needs to be emphasised is the quality of the ensemble: Jones and the two youngsters Skelton and Ramsay yield nothing to the more familiar players. Beard must, of course, take some of the credit for this, but it also needs to be said that he has chosen to give us a narrative of limited appeal. It's not just the fact that so much of the tale is gloomy but that it lacks any real sense of forward momentum, something that is badly needed if the tale is to be compelling: it all feels real, but too often there's a sense of stasis not so far removed from that of Aisha herself. Perhaps that was inevitable in the telling of this particular story but it makes Two for Joy a hard sell. Nevertheless, the achievements of the entire cast deserve to be noticed and applauded.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Samantha Morton, Billie Piper, Daniel Mays, Emilia Jones, Bella Ramsay, Badger Skelton, Grace Hogg-Robinson, David Elliot, Adam Young.

 

Dir  Tom Beard, Pro Emma Comley and Sadie Frost, Screenplay Tom Beard, Ph Tim Sidell, Pro Des Laura Ellis Cricks, Ed Izabella Curry, Music Rodaidh McDonald, Costumes Sarah Blenkinsop.

 

Blonde to Black Pictures/BFI/Creative England/Goldfinch Studios-Lorton Entertainment.
97 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 28 September 2018. Cert. 12A.