British film-maker Sally Porter’s seventh feature in a 43 year career sees her telling the story of two young teens inhabiting a time of personal and political turmoil in 1960s London.
Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert, daughter of Jane Campion) play the inseparable duo who were born just as nuclear weapons ended one war in 1945 and were coming of age just as another nuclear wave of worry spread across the developed world in 1963. Both come from dysfunctional families but it is Ginger’s on which we focus. Christina Hendricks plays her mother and Alessandro Nivola plays her father, a free-thinking writer named Roland. Annette Bening’s May and Ginger’s dual godfathers Mark and Mark II (a delightful Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt) provide emotional support away from the pressures of a collapsing marriage.
Fanning is only fourteen years of age, while Englert is eighteen. We see them skipping school, smoking, drinking, going off with boys and being inseparable in a way that only teenage girls can be. Despite the real-world variance in ages, the two actresses hold their own but Fanning’s Ginger is the absolute star of the show. She stole the show in Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere two years ago and was the star performer in J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 (sorry “weird alien thing from cave”). Her acting here is astounding with top marks due for her flawless English accent. With Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis likely to get any “child actor” oscar nod going next spring, it seems likely that Fanning’s Ginger will be forgotten about but with an oscar-qualifying run just announced, we can only hope she gets the attention she deserves.
Potter’s script is a little heavy at times and the story really loses momentum midway through before finding its way back to a cracking finale. Her ability to write strong characters is not in doubt though, with Ginger’s want-away father Roland showing just how much men got away with in family systems fifty years ago. Christina Hendricks’ mother character of Natalie doesn’t have a whole lot to do when playing the third wheel alongside the Ginger and Roland show, but the Mad Men star still manages to hold her own with a subtle performance.
The film was shot by Robbie Ryan, a graduate of Dun Laoghaire’s IADT, who cements his place as one of Britain’s most distinctive cinematographers with the film. He has previously worked with Andrea Arnold on Red Road, Fish Tank and Wuthering Heights and Ginger & Rosa continues this run of form with a truly gorgeous depiction of the England of fifty years ago. The colour grading leaves Fanning and Hendrick’s red hair as the dominant colours in a world of cloudy blues and greys that goes some way to conveying the gloom and worry that gripped the world on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis.
With a tighter script and a bit more work on the “& Rosa” half of the film, Porter could have had one of the year’s best period films on her hands. But even with those flaws present, Ginger & Rosa is still a thoroughly engrossing drama featuring one of the year’s stand-out performance.
UK / Directed By: Sally Potter / Written By: Sally Potter / Starring: Elle Fanning, Timothy Spall, Alice Englert, Oliver Platt, Jodhi May, Alessandro Nivola, Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening / 89min / Drama / Release: 19 October 2012 (UK/Ireland)