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Film reviews: Rocks / White Riot

Inspiring: Bukky Bakray, centre, shines as Rocks in Sarah Gavron’s drama

THE BIG RELEASE

Rocks

(12) ★★★★★

GIRLS just wanna have fun, but what if they can’t afford that luxury? Sixteen-year-old Shola, aka Rocks, is a seemingly irrepressible British-Nigerian schoolgirl. Raised in Hackney, east London, Rocks loves hanging with her mates and doing their make-up for 50p.

However, her sunny outlook is painfully dulled when her depressive mother walks out leaving £30 and a note that she’s gone to clear her head. Suddenly, Rocks is forced to grow up and shoulder a heavy burden of responsibility to prevent herself and her seven-year-old brother (a divine little D’angelou Osei Kissiedu) being taken into foster care.

On paper, Rocks (the movie) promises all the unrelenting, grind-you-down-to-angry-tears miserablism of a Ken Loach movie. Rocks (the girl), however, is not for grinding — though she’s well up for twerking. Yes, her defences slam up, her light dims, but her resilience is remarkable — and remarkably believable thanks to her glorious embodiment by teenaged newcomer Bukky Bakray, who wasn’t even taking drama GCSE when she was talent-spotted for the role.

Though co-written by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, the film was workshopped for more than a year with a cast of mostly non-actors and other young Londoners. That process is the secret weapon that enabled the film-makers to capture these vivid characters (special mention to Kosar Ali as Rocks’ Somali BFF) and their melting pot inner-city world with such vivid and compelling authenticity.

Indeed, for much of the film you’ll wonder if it’s documentary rather than fiction. Happily, it’s the latter because you’re that bit more likely to get that ultimately uplifting ending we all crave. But Rocks’ journey is still a heart-wrencher (remember to bring tissues as well as your face mask), pulling you out of your own troubles and into hers.

It’s the finest film yet from director Sarah Gavron (Suffragette, Brick Lane), whose camera no longer hovers politely here, like an earnest tourist, but gets fully stuck in. A gorgeous movie packed with hope and powered by street cred, Rocks rocks.

The verdict

A real-deal, girl-power fable that fizzes with joy and friendship

White Riot

(15) ★★★★✩

United we once stood: Syd Shelton’s image of multiracial fans in the 1970s

IF THE Black Lives Matter movement has you wringing your hands and saying, ‘What can I do?’ (beyond posting a black square on Instagram), then take inspiration from the founders of Rock Against Racism (RAR).

Set up in the 1970s, a time of high unemployment, recession and mainstream anti-immigration rhetoric (sound familiar?), RAR was a grassroots, white-led UK collective that aimed to unite black and white (and brown) to create ‘dynamite’, blasting away racial prejudice via the power of punk and reggae music.

Director Rubika Shah takes a deep dive into the 1970s cultural ferment. Fresh interviews with RAR’s leading lights are energetically spliced into some hair-raising video archive in a manner similar to RAR’s famous fanzine, Temporary Hoarding.

Also, rare, raw gig footage, featuring the likes of The Clash and Tom Robinson, is guaranteed to get you pogo-ing in your seat.

What’s saddening, even scary, however, is how little we have ultimately progressed. The Black And White Minstrel show may no longer be on the telly, but, as the doc’s final line puts it, ‘The fight is far from over.’

MORE NEW FILMS ON DEMAND AND IN CINEMAS

Nocturnal (15)

Pained: Cosmo Jarvis in Nocturnal

Rising star Cosmo Jarvis (Calm With Horses) puts in another sensational turn in this indie as Pete, a lonely 33-year-old painter/decorator who forms an intense relationship with a goody-goody 16-year-old schoolgirl, who’s also a budding athlete. In selected cinemas from Friday

The Devil All The Time (18)

Tom Holland fights the forces of evil in this post-World War II slice of midwestern gothic based on Donald Ray Pollock’s novel. Produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, it also co-stars Robert Pattinson as an unholy preacher. On Netflix from today

Hard Kill (15)

A growly, macho title like that always makes me think of Bruce Willis. Yet it’s almost shocking to find the Die Hard legend himself actually slumming it — albeit briefly — in this direct-to-download action flick, whose only other distinctive feature is its doleful zero per cent rating on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Available now on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Sky Store, Virgin, Rakuten, TalkTalk, BT

Hurt By Paradise (TBC)

Shot for just £75,000, this micro-budget movie is like Woody Allen’s Manhattan set in London’s Camden Town. At least that’s the vibe channelled by actress turned debut director Greta Bellamacina (Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire) with her semi-autobiographical tale of a single mother struggling to be a poet. In selected cinemas from Friday

The Man In The Hat (12A)

Directed and co-written by Oscar-winning composer Stephen Warbeck (Shakespeare In Love, Billy Elliot) this picturesque near-silent dramedy stars Ciarán Hinds (Game Of Thrones, The Woman In Black) as the titular man who is mysteriously pursued across France by five angry men in a Citroën Dyane. In selected cinemas from Friday