So a few weeks ago I went to see a film called ‘Second Coming‘ at the Hackney Picturehouse.
Obviously going to see a film in the cinema is not really that special nowadays but this film stands out because it is written, directed and stars Debbie Tucker Green who is black, female and British and it features a predominantly black cast including superstar Idris Elba.
I thought it was an ambitious, sensitive and thought-provoking film but what I loved most about ‘Second Coming’ is that it showed black people in ‘normal’ situations – there was no violence, gratuitous sex, swearing or anything else that usually accompanies a black person in a feature film.
It wasn’t about slavery, drugs, the ghetto, racism or any other weighty subject that we of course must not shy away from, but don’t have to be defined by all of the time.
And because of that I found it to be a breath of fresh air.
The film just follows an ordinary black family of three who are going about their every day existence – eating, talking, going to run-of-the-mill jobs and school, and just trying to get on with life which we can all relate to.
The couple, Mark and Jackie, played by Idris and the equally superb Nadine Marshall are seen having meals, getting ready for bed, going to work, visiting extended family and just living.
Their 11-year-old son JJ, who is played by the outstanding Kai Francis Lewis, goes to school as per usual, has a girl as a best friend and a wonderful affinity for nature which at one stage sees him take home an injured bird which he hopes to nurture back to health after his friend damages its wing (more on that later).
The ‘twist’ in the film (and I’m not giving anything away by mentioning it) is that Nadine’s character is pregnant, and she finds this difficult to accept, primarily because she has a history of miscarriages and also because she hasn’t slept with her husband, or anyone else as far as we are told, for months.
The early part of the film is spent building up the relationship between Jackie and the audience and it wasn’t hard for me to like her as she reflected so many things that I could relate too – she tied her hair up at night (as I do), she spoke with a London accent (as I do), she spent most of her time at work (as I do) or at home looking after her family and was in all ways just your typical, black British woman.
So we find out early on that Jackie is in denial about her pregnancy and after a series of bad dreams/ visions involving water and a grilling by her best friend (played by the writer Debbie Tucker Green) we also find out that Mark probably isn’t the father.
Mark is still in the dark but eventually finds out the ‘happy’ news about the baby from JJ. However as his wife gets big very quickly and is obviously further along in her pregnancy than he realised it doesn’t take too long for him to work out that he can’t be the dad.
This revelation leads to one of the most tense, emotionally-charged and difficult scenes in the film when he confronts Jackie and also drags in their son into a heated, but one-sided argument, that leads to more questions than answers.
The couple’s relationship falls apart and Jackie becomes increasingly isolated and desperate as she struggles to understand what is happening to her and deal with her nightmares which are getting more strange and vivid.
Eventually she takes drastic action to end her predicament and this is another scene in the film that IMO was well-managed and sensitively acted, written and directed.
While in hospital Jackie is given psychiatric treatment and in these sessions it slowly becomes clear that even she doesn’t have any answers and so the audience must accept that it will never really find out how she became pregnant or who the father is. Although some parts of the story moved slowly I was completely gripped as it became obvious that this was not going to end all tied up with a neat bow.
Anyway, eventually the baby is born and the film, which has a general grey feeling of prevailing sadness throughout, actually ends on a quite uplifting note with a family BBQ where the baby girl is already walking and is the centre of attention as she is fussed over by her doting big brother.
Meanwhile Jackie and Mark sit on white plastic chairs and reminisce about their long history which hints at the possibility of a happy ending, even after all they’ve been through. And to symbolise the revival of their relationship, the bird that their son JJ was nurturing but had died and was buried, emerges from its grave and is fully healed and able to fly off into the sunshine.
So, what I loved most about this film really was that it didn’t pander to stereotypes or preconceived notions. I really felt part of the family’s mini-drama and the fact that at the end we are left to interpret whether the main character has really experienced a ‘miracle’ or was just having some sort of pregnancy-induced mental breakdown is the perfect way to leave it.
The film is essentially about how the extraordinary clashes with the ordinary every day and sometimes we are just too engrossed in living to see or accept it.
I hope Debbie Tucker Green and ‘Second Coming’ get some deserved exposure and recognition and that other film makers see that when you cast black people you don’t always have to go beyond the every day to tell an amazing story.
Other reviews of ‘Second Coming’ –
The Guardian review of ‘Second Coming’
The Telegraph review of ‘Second Coming’