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A real teenage life

PUBLISHED: 18:00 21 September 2009 | UPDATED: 12:58 11 August 2010

Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank

Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank

THE NAME may be unusual, but the content of Fish Tank is so raw and so real that at times it felt more like a documentary than a feature film. Shot in several locations around Barking and Dagenham and winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival

THE NAME may be unusual, but the content of Fish Tank is so raw and so real that at times it felt more like a documentary than a feature film.

Shot in several locations around Barking and Dagenham and winner of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, director Andrea Arnold has created something that truly captures the life of a troubled teenager.

And does so without being judgemental, just honest. It is really an extraordinary thing to witness.

Mia, played by newcomer Katie Jarvis, has been excluded from school and none of her friends want to speak to her anymore.

Her world is one of isolation, looking out from the windows of abandoned tower blocks while she practises her dancing.

With angry hip-hop pumping out of her tiny CD player, 15-year-old Mia downs cider from a two-litre bottle and busts her best moves.

She's good and she's angry - angry at her mum, played by Kierston Wareing, who often ignores her two daughters in favour of going out drinking and having parties at their tiny flat.

But one day everything changes when Mia's mum brings home a charming Irish boyfriend who promises to change everything.

Connor, played by Michael Fassbender, is the first person in some time to take an interest in Mia and make her feel like she is worthwhile.

He encourages her dancing and the two form a special bond that's loaded with sexual tension.

The subject matter of Fish Tank is often downright upsetting, but it never flinches and the audience is in for an experience that will stay with them long after the credits have rolled.

Katie Jarvis, who was discovered arguing with her boyfriend at a train station, puts in an incredible debut performance as Mia.

Unfortunately the talented young actor did not make it to the world premiere in Cannes as she was about to become a mother.

Spotting areas of Barking and Dagenham that you recognise in the film is fun - The Heathway, Gascoigne Estate and the industrial wastelands around the A13.

But it isn't long before you are so engrossed in this stark and beautiful tale that you completely forget about all that.

As for the name, Fish Tank, I spent some time after the film had finished turning the title over in my mind.

Perhaps it meant that Mia was trapped inside a world that she was born into or maybe it had to do with the fact that she was always outside, looking in.

Whatever the meaning, this is a thought-provoking film. One that says more about what it is really like to live in east London than Cockney gangster movies ever do.

Fish Tank was released nationwide on Friday.


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