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MOVIES: LFF 2023 - The End We Start From - Review

The End We Start From by Mahalia Belo takes place in England after storms have ravaged the country, rendering most cities underwater and those towns and villages lucky enough to be on high ground imposing restrictions on those not born there. Into the frantic post-apocalyptic dystopia that rivals Children of Men with its themes – Jodie Comer’s nameless mother must lead her child with her husband, R – played by Joel Fry, who is familiar in post-pandemic territory having starred in Ben Wheatley’s In the Earth – to safety – but R’s anxiety proves a crucial tipping point when they reach the prospect of safety in new shelters that have been designed to accommodate several people.

The film is always moving; always on edge – always fast paced. Belo accomplishes the look of a high budget blockbuster with a small scale indie film – and sets up to upend the rulebook by asking just how well prepared those who prepare themselves for times like these actually are when the end times happen. The End We Start From doesn’t rely on deus ex machina, there’s plenty of cruel, harrowing moments early on especially concerning R’s family – his parents, played by Mark Strong and Ramanique Ahluwalia, have small but uniquely devastating moments in the film which makes excellent work out of it’s a-list actors appearing for only a few select scenes. Benedict Cumberbatch, also present – as a survivor who can’t let go, doesn’t overshadow the narrative at all – save for the collective laughter of my sold out Royal Festival Hall screening when he showed up in a completely played-straight way, because that’s just how the British people react to seeing stars they recognise. The one that has the most staying presence is the brilliant Katherine Waterstone, who allows for some black humour in moments of darkness.

The real star though; is Jodie Comer – on screen for much of the runtime, delivering a powerful, nuanced performance from the word go. She’s utterly sensational. Grief, anguish, rage – the ability to move on, the film looks at the grieving process in a way that can be read as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a film made since that allows for a sense of healing: it’s the city folk that survive, despite it all – a love letter to those trapped in the city in lockdown and the hell that they had to experience, it’s something that is captured brilliantly by Belo to the point where The End We Start From may be the first great post-COVID film. It’s not about COVID, of course, but any post 2021 apocalyptic film would have a hard time not being influenced in some way especially as the memory of the pandemic is so fresh on our minds.

Adapted from Megan Hunter’s novel The End We Start From can feel at times a bit formulaic – Comer’s character and her child run from a to b, stay in shelter, shelter becomes no longer viable, have to move again – rinse and repeat, for much of the film’s runtime. But it’s a journey in search of a destination: a fabled off-shore island has promise of a new utopia, where people are able to move on and leave the world behind: but can you leave everything behind? Should you? What sort of person are you if you do?

There’s not quite enough distinctive vision to make this film emerge as anything memorable, but The End We Start From gives Jodie Comer the chance to shine in her first movie lead. Big screen star status was always coming: her turn in Free Guy was short, and The Last Duel never gave her the attention that she deserved by how little people saw it – but freed from Killing Eve, Comer embraces the role of the one woman show with one of the best performances of the year. So raw, powerful and utterly brilliant – there’s few better currently working to do it.

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