Steve McQueen opened this year’s London Film Festival with his exceptional social justice biopic and contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement, Mangrove, but this isn’t the last we saw of him at this year’s festival. McQueen would also close the 64th London Film Festival with the second part in his Small Axe mini-series, Lovers Rock.
Lovers Rock takes place over a single evening as a house party in 1980’s West London takes place. We follow a number of characters throughout the night and watch as relationships blossom and enemies are made, all to the sound reggae music.
It is important to firstly state that Lovers Rock is absolutely nothing like Mangrove. Mcqueen’s festival and Small Axe opener is a biopic with a conventional narrative structure, similar to his academy award winning film, 12 Years A Slave. Lovers Rock however, is more like McQueen’s earlier work as he uses long lingering shot duration’s to capture a moment as it happens.
Although the film isn’t character driven, it does loosely follow Martha, played by Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, as she encounters various conflicts, but also sparks a connection with a man called Franklyn, played by Michael Ward. McQueen does a decent job at making Martha and Franklyn’s characters likable and engaging the audience for the films 70 minutes runtime, however if this film was any longer I, and probably the majority of general audiences, would probably lose interest.
McQueen’s main focus with this film isn’t to tell a story necessarily; instead it is to recreate a night at an afro house party in 1980’s West London. This is certainly a goal that he achieves; however, this high art approach will make this film a polarizing addition to Small Axe, especially as it follows on from the masterpiece that is, Mangrove.
McQueen excels at bringing an 80’s afro night club to life and provides just enough character work to sustain our interest; however, Lovers Rock simply pales in comparison to Mangrove.
Perhaps it’s a film that benefits from repeat viewings, nonetheless, for those going into Lovers Rock expecting a recognizable narrative film like Mangrove, I urge you to change those expectations if you are to enjoy this film for the literal onscreen celebration it is.
Overall, Lovers Rock is a short but sweet film that takes McQueen’s Small Axe mini-series into a totally different direction, however, that direction will only be appreciated by some.
Lovers Rock will premiere on BBC One on November 22nd, a week after Mangrove with the rest of the Small Axe series premiering one episode per week