Writer and director Tom Beard’s first feature is a bleak family drama powered by some brilliant performances. Everything is left unsaid in Two for Joy, it is for the viewer to pick up on the nuance of the script and performances. Samantha Morton is the biggest star here and she is incredible as a depressed mother of two Aisha. She inhabits the role so fully in her entire body, enabling her to convey emotion with the slightest change of body language. This is a small film, focused on subtlety and the family nucleus. It’s certainly not one for the emotionally frail – it won’t leave you in floods of tears with big drama but with a deep, melancholic feeling.
Following the scantly mentioned death of her husband, Aisha has been stuck in a depressive state for an extended period of time. She struggles to get out of bed, lives on microwave meals and spends the majority of her time in bed or in front of the TV. Her 15-year-old daughter Vi (Emilia Jones) has subsumed the maternal role despite having to revise for her impending GCSEs. Her younger brother Troy (Badger Skelton) has become increasingly rebellious lacking parental intervention. Having recently been excluded from school he spends his time fishing in the local river; the only affection he shows is for the fish he catches and promptly releases.
The family is suffocating under the weight of Aisha’s depression and severe neglect. In an attempt to lighten her mother’s spirits and escape the oppressive house, Vi suggests a trip to the seaside, to a site of remembered happiness. There they meet another dysfunctional family, that of drunk Lillah (Billie Piper), her reliable brother Lias (Daniel Mays) and her unruly daughter Miranda (Bella Ramsay). As the two families feel each other out, the film begins to instill the viewer with a sense of dread. We know that this meeting won’t end well for either family, despite their attempts to combat their collective, divisive issues.
The acting in Two for Joy is superb and easily the strongest aspect of the entire film. Across the board, both adult and child actors put in not just great, but intelligent performances. The script is stripped back with all the emphasis on body language and facial expression to reveal the mood. The pace is steady with very little exposition, allowing the audience to fully understand the characters and their situation before introducing their predicament. Special mention must go to Bella Ramsay who is genuinely terrifying as Miranda. She brings a brutal animalism to Miranda’s misbehaviour which betrays the effect her mother’s alcoholism has had on her.
The rest of the film maintains its muted nature in sound and picture. Tim Sidell’s cinematography, particularly in the urban landscapes is dull and grey in keeping with the tone of the film, and the sound is tellingly absent, allowing the viewer to focus on the small details of each performance. The only issue here is that Two for Joy falls victim to its own narrative and themes. It’s not an easy watch at times and the slow pace may put off certain viewers. It’s a quiet film, not just sound but also in its colour and performances.
With a focus on themes of depression and neglect, Two for Joy opts for an understated approach, all about nuance and detail. The acting is outstanding as a feeling is expressed through more than just dialogue. The established stars shine, but so do the child actors in this gloomy tale.
Ewan Wood | ★★★1/2
Drama | UK, 2018 | 15 | Edinburgh Film Festival | Dir.Tom Beard | Billie Piper, Samantha Morton, Daniels Mays