An arresting debut from actor-turned-director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Dir/scr: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. UK. 2018. 107 mins
Actor turned director Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje makes an arresting feature debut with Farming. Told with raw emotion and lurid violence, it transforms elements of his life story into a disturbing, eye-opening coming of age drama.
The vicious racism and language of the period are presented with a sickening authenticity
Akinnuoye-Agbaje adopts a go-for-broke approach throughout a film that unfolds with broad brushstrokes storytelling and characterisations that teeter on the verge of caricature. His unsparing depiction of the racist attitudes that shaped his life makes far from easy viewing which could create challenges in transforming critical admiration into commercial viability.
There is a bracing energy to his filmmaking but also a lack of subtlety. In the early stages, the film seems to be running to catch up with everything that is happening in the life of the young Enitan, played initially by Zeehan Hanson Amissah as a wide-eyed innocent and dreamer. In the later stages, it feels that there isn’t quite the space or time to do full justice to the redemptive arc of his story.
We are told that between the 1960s and the 1980s, thousands of Nigerian children were fostered to white working class families in the UK, a process known as “ farming”. Enitan’s family entrust him to the care of Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale). He grows up in a loving, boisterous household in Tilbury along with six other children that Ingrid is fostering. Television and newspaper reports of Enoch Powell’s infamous ’Rivers Of Blood’ speech are used to sketch in the background of some British attitudes that prevailed in the late 1960s.
As a schoolboy, Enitan is hit by stones, attacked by a dog, bullied and humiliated. He is told to learn to fight for himself, advice he will take to heart as an adolescent.
Farming vividly depicts the way in which Enitan is cut adrift from any sense of belonging or security. At one stage, his parents decide take him “home” to Nigeria and it might as well be a trip to the moon. He doesn’t understand the language and is frightened by the local customs. In Britain, he is treated as a second-class citizen, leaving him marooned in a no man’s land.
The most startling twist in Enitan’s story is the way the teenager (now played by the charismatic Damson Idris) becomes a member of a white skinhead gang lead by vicious psychopath Levi (John Dalgleish). The leering, moronic gang members are like refugees from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Enitan’s complete commitment to their way of life is shocking.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje does have an eye for a striking images, creating memorable moments as the young Enitan tries to blend in by concealing his black skin beneath white talc. The older Enitan is stripped bare, spray painted and posed against a brick wall daubed with the slogan “Keep Britain White”. The vicious racism and language of the period are presented with a sickening authenticity.
The female characters tend to be edged towards the sidelines with Kate Beckinsale not the most obvious casting as working class mum Ingrid and Gugu Mbatha-Raw lumbered with the role of a decent, well-intentioned teacher who seeks to remind Enitan that there is a different path from the one of violence and self-destruction. The handsome Damson Idris proves that he has the presence and skill to carry a film, capturing the tangled mix of fear, anger and swagger as a decent young man inexorably pulled into a living nightmare.
Production companies: Groundswell Productions, Montebello Productions
International sales: HanWay Films firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Michael London, Janice Williams, Francois Invernel, Andrew Levitas
Production design: Miren Maranon
Editing: Tariq Anwar
Cinematography: Kit Fraser
Music: Ilan Eshkeri
Main cast: Damson Idris, Kate Beckinsale, John Dalgleish, Gugu Mbatha-Raw