Damson Idris, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Kate Beckinsale, John Dagleish
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…contains memorable scenes and definitely, er, packs a punch, but it is marred by gauche directorial touches…
The history of Britain, like most post-imperial societies, is also fundamentally a history of race relations. Themes related to this have been tackled many times in British cinema, but rarely has there been such an oddity as this one. In fact, if the film had not been based on the actual life experience of its creator Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, audiences might be forgiven for just disbelieving the whole premise. That doesn’t guarantee that it is a good film, but more of that anon.
Farming covers a long period while its protagonist Enitan (Damson Idris, no relation) is growing up, but the main period and place concentrated upon is Tilbury in the East End of London in the 1960s. This was the era of the skinheads, a wild working-class youth cultural movement much beloved by sociologists but generally feared and hated by people on the streets, especially if they came from ethnic minority backgrounds as our hero did.
As the film establishes in the set-up, many recent immigrants from Africa (in this case Nigeria) tried to settle in the UK but often could not find a secure financial footing. Enitan‘s parents (one of whom is played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) follow the then-common practice of ‘farming’ out their young son to a local white family. Waiting with open arms (and an empty purse) is Ingrid (Kate Beckinsale). She has made a cottage industry of adopting her ‘little black babies’, but despite her occasional sentimentality, she is far from treating them all with the love that they crave or deserve.
Before long, Enitan is feeling rejected in his new home and being bullied at school. He is tormented by the colour of his skin and, in one sad excoriating scene, tries to scrub himself white. He then falls in with a vicious skinhead gang and is more or less prepared to become a ‘pet’ to its psychotic leader Levi (a genuinely unnerving performance from John Dagleish). Enitan then has to become even more violent than the gang in a desperate bid to belong.
The film contains memorable scenes and definitely, er, packs a punch, but it is marred by gauche directorial touches from first time helmer Akinnuoye-Agbaje who is, perhaps understandably, too close to his material.
One of the main weaknesses is the casting of Beckinsale. Her attempt to portray a fag-in-mouth fishwife soon tips over into a slightly insulting mockney parody which never really recovers its poise. Beckinsale is hard working and to some extent versatile. She was, no doubt, trying to move beyond her action adventure films (Underworld) but this just wasn’t the ‘serious role’ she was looking for.
Still, such a powerful and unusual tale deserves to be told.