Fish Tank review – Katie Jarvis shines

Posted on 2 September 2009
By Andy Johnson, Purple Revolver
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Britain’s triumphant Cannes jury winner Fish Tank is on its way to FACT. Director Andrea Arnold has crafted a dark cinematic hallmark for melancholy, yet engaging characters trying to escape their troubled lives.

Mia lives in the cultural desert of a run down council estate and the only artforms, which have managed to move her from being slumped in front of the telly are hip hop and breakdancing.

A vicious headbutting to settle a row with a rival girl gang in the opening scene sets the brutal pace and the decent into madness of Mia.

The troubled teenager is played brilliantly by Katie Jarvis, who was cast after being spotted arguing with her boyfriend on a train platform.

We first get to see her spirit of rebellion when she tries to unchain a horse in a gypsie caravan park, mirroring the feelings the audience develop for Mia, what hope can we have that she will be free, when all her roads for escape are blocked and she lives in a Fish Tank?

Expelled from school for violence and destined for the rehabilitation unit, Mia has a dog called Tennents but she is more than just a symbol of the lager-swilling tearaways living in ‘broken Britain.’

She is a fierce-tempered and complex 15-year-old with a burgeoning sexuality – constantly at war with her mother Joanne (Kierston Wareing), who tells her she should have been aborted.

Into this world of drunken debauchery and hopeless oblivion comes a ray of sunshine in the form their mum’s new boyfriend, played by Michael Fassenbender, fresh from his star turn in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

The story unfolds with the events that happen to Mia, her sister and her single mum when Connor enters their lives.

Problems arise when they are doted on by the warm father figure and they all want to bask in his seemingly unconditional love. But the Irish charmer has secrets.

Director Arnold only releases her scripts to the actors a couple of days before before each scene to help give the film a raw intensity and unnerving naturalism.

The energy Arnold evokes from her actors won admirers for her debut Red Road at Cannes in 2006.and now pushed Fish Tank and raw acting talent Jarvis under an international spotlight. The young Essex star has attracted Johnny Depp’s agent for film projects in the States.

Fish Tank romantically captures the elements of underclass Britain and provides the audience with an sympathetic insight into how trapped these troubled youths are in their environment.

You see gangs of tattooed youths patrolling the estate barely keeping control of rottweilers and even younger kids shoplifting alongside athletic kids practicing freerunning on the crumbling walls.

But the grim reality is punctuated by spotlights of beauty everywhere. The characters wake up bathing in brilliantly soft light breaking through the tower block flat windows and the balcony with Connors’ shirts blowing clean in the wind is as pure a vision as any washing powder advert.

Arnold doubles the harsh streetlights as spotlights giving an amber glow to the bitter rows and in the abandoned flat upstairs where Mia drunkenly works on her dance routines she is inspired by watching a flock of birds in flight above the depression of the estate below.

All the kids on the estate aspire to escape and look to the American cultural domination through the constant streaming of MTV cribs on their grubby TV sets as the ideal way of life.

The star turn is Mia’s nine-year-old little sister Tyler (played by Rebecca Griffiths, who can swear like a trooper and calls her mum a ‘*untface’ and tells her during a discussion there’s no point hoping to come back reincarnated as a dog ‘because you already is a dog.’

We later see Tyler watching reality TV with a friend sharing a fag and can of cider, abusing the star’s ‘yellow teeth’ like a 30-something woman disillusioned with their place in the world, while her mum parties with Connor and her ageing gang of drunken hangers on downstairs.

You want to like Connor and the promise of a better, more balanced family life he represents but there is something sinister in his presence.

Ultimately the sexual tension between him and Mia leads him to a seduction on the couch after her mum passes out.

The closest the mum and daughter come to reconcilliation is a touching scene where Mia finds her half naked dancing to her Nas Life’s A Bitch CD and they dance face to face without saying anything.

Fish Tank opens at FACT, 88 Wood Street, on September 11 For screening times and to buy tickets visit