Film Review – Rocks (2019)

Bursting onto the scene like a bolt from the blue, Sarah Gavron’s Rocks has well and truly arrived. After a year or more of anticipation, of glowing reviews from far and wide, and huge debuts across the world over at different festivals, it is set to ignite some much needed and thoughtful discussions about life as both a teenager and a woman.

We’ve seen countless stories like this before, of course, but nothing quite like this, both in style and substance as Gavron and her co-writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson forged their sensational and moving story around those they brought into the film, adding a whole new layer to their narrative and to their surroundings in 21st century London life.

The titular Rocks (the irrepressible Bukky Bakray) is the member of her school girlfriends’ group that is seen as the most steadfast, smart, and headstrong, sticking up for her friends against bullies and other obstacles as they navigate modern teenage life. However, her home life is on the other side of the coin: her mother, trying her best to deal with her own demons, leaves her and her brother alone – not for the first time – and Rocks is left to be housekeeper, mother, student, money earner and much more. She seeks refuge from friends and those who know her and her mother’s story but as the days pass, the strains begin to get larger and larger.

Gavron, director of Brick Lane and Suffragette, made her name directing documentaries (and winning countless awards) and it’s those early works that have set the tone for Rocks: a narrative story is some senses, the film plays like a documentary, following these girls and their experiences rather than the other way around, almost like a real-time chronicle of what life is like in this world, in these circumstances.

Related: Director Sarah Gavron and the team from Rocks on the power of female friendship

The raw edges, the real locations, the characters plucked from the real streets, makes the film feel alive and vibrant at every turn as if you are stepping into that world, smelling and sensing everything that these friends are experiencing as they navigate the unique complexities of the life, including that of a young woman. Punctuated by some sensational performances, names Bakray’s whirlwind of a performance, it’s a shame to say goodbye when it concludes.

A wonderful mixture of joyous and uplifting moments of friendship, womanhood, and teenage life, yet always embracing the humanity – however sad – of the story, Rocks is a truly stunning piece of British cinema that will only grow into something even bigger over time. If the world is kind, we may get to see them all again soon.

★★★★

Drama | UK, 2019 | 15 | Cinema | 18th September 2020 (UK) | Altitude Films | Dir.Sarah Gavron | Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, D’angelou Osei Kissiedu, Ruby Stokes