❉ Jessica Hynes’ directorial debut isn’t afraid to throw some heavy punches.
“…here’s the thing – despite what audiences might expect, The Fight isn’t a comedy. It’s also barely got any boxing in it. No, instead we have a film that is concerned with the notion of the battle within us all. The struggle we all face to fit in, and to be supported on our journey… Almost every major character in this movie is battling for their self-worth, haunted by mistakes they made, and those around them made that pushed them into the place they are today.”
The very notion of Jessica Hynes writing and directing her own feature film feels long overdue. To paraphrase an old script of hers, every time the actress has written for television, the results have been a slice of fried gold.
And yet the announcement of The Fight felt rather subdued. It’s hard to get excited over a film about boxing, and the initial plot outline of a put-upon mother who learns how to fight for herself could so easily have been a throwback to those ten-a-penny low budget British ‘comedy’ films that came out around the turn of the century. It’d have been so easy to make a rags to riches tale complete with a training montage set to the latest forgettable pop hit that’d inevitably date the film on subsequent viewings.
Of course, Jessica Hynes isn’t here to make another bad British movie. Instead, she’s carved out a thoughtful, three dimensional character study that doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, yet isn’t afraid – no pun intended – to throw some heavy punches.
It’s hard to say much about the plot without giving half the game away, but Hynes plays Tina, a care-home nurse by day, and a struggling mum to three children the rest of the time. Her husband, Mick (played by the ever wonderful Shaun Parkes) works night-shifts and so, apart from a brief bit of ‘family time’, never really gets to see her.
While Tina struggles with finding her place in life, Mick has accepted his lot, and is one of the few people in her life who seems to have found a degree of happiness. The same cannot be said for Tina’s parents, Gene and Frank – who, in pitch perfect turn from veterans Anita Dobson and Christopher Fairbank, are falling apart, unable to communicate with one another and prone to lashing out in frustration.
As for Tina & Mick’s children, The Girl With all the Gifts star Sennia Nanua plays their eldest child, Emma, and fresh from lighting up the screen as an infected plague carrier in a post-apocalyptic landscape, she’s especially good at portraying a young girl feeling lost in the enclosed environment of high school. School bullies make her feel unwelcome at every turn, and in an unfortunate twist of fate, the girl leading the pack not only happens to be the daughter of a woman Tina knew growing up, but has convinced her own mother that it’s Emma who’s doing the bullying, which sets up for an inevitable showdown between the two old enemies.
This is the point where those lesser films would fall into stereotypes, quickfire gags and a heartwarming, feelgood ending that’s the movie equivalent of bingeing an entire box of Milk Tray in one sitting and regretting it afterwards. And here’s the thing – despite what audiences might expect, The Fight isn’t a comedy. It’s also barely got any boxing in it.
No, instead we have a film that is concerned with the notion of the battle within us all. The struggle we all face to fit in, and to be supported on our journey. Mick finds happiness in his family, but everyone else is in the middle of a world falling apart. Even Jordan, the girl who torments Emma, has chinks in her armour – with an overbearing mother (a flawless turn from Rhona Mitra) who also has problems of her own to overcome. Almost every major character in this movie is battling for their self-worth, haunted by mistakes they made, and those around them made that pushed them into the place they are today.
There are a couple of exceptions to this. Sally Philips plays a music teacher at Emma’s school, who helps her find the confidence to perform, Cathy Tyson is hardened boxing trainer Viv, and Alice Lowe has a brief cameo as a middle-class hippy home-schooling mum who uses a special pebble to indicate when it’s your turn to talk. In their own way, much like Mick, they’ve found the happiness they seek, and don’t let the past haunt them. Yet there are also moments when these characters have their happiness challenged, and they must either push away what they don’t want to think about, or use it to make themselves stronger. Everyone must find a way to feel proud, and for some that comes through ignorance. For others, it’s acceptance. And for a couple, it’s breaking the rules altogether.
And part of what makes this film so special is that Hynes has honed in on the shadows that the past leaves behind on an individual. Dysfunctional families. Abusive guardians. Childhood bullying and the notion of anger driving your actions. Hynes characters allow you to hold up a mirror to your own past, and like them, maybe find some inner peace along the way.
On top of this, the film looks and sounds beautiful. Shot by noted cinematographer Ryan Eddleston (who also worked with Alice Lowe on Prevenge), the framing is rich, and once again defies the fact that the whole film was shot in 12 days. And composer Luke Abbot has a light touch approach which never impedes on the drama, enhancing key moments with a sprinkling of electronica.
Could it be more adventurous? Perhaps. Make no bones about it: this is a small scale drama that won’t rock the boat. But sometimes the richest rewards are not laugh-a-minute gag riots, or action packed CGI extravaganzas. It’s the little things like a dad encouraging his young daughter to turn her poetry into song. It’s a woman taking her shoes off to help a young girl find her phone in a river, or a silly conversation in a front garden with the person you love the most. As Tina begins to learn, those little things can help more than a million self-help tapes. Hard lives begat hard lives, but sometimes, if you just sing to your own tune, life can be worth living.
❉ ‘The Fight’ was released by Sparky Pictures Ltd. on DVD 9 September 2019. Cert: 15. Running Time: 91 mins approx. Cat.No: SPARKY1008. Director: Jessica Hynes. Cast includes Jessica Hynes, Anita Dobson, Christopher Fairbank, Liv Hill, Rhona Mitra, Alice Lowe, Russell Brand, Sally Phillips, Cathy Tyson. Also available on digital VOD platforms.
❉ An occasional contributor to We Are Cult, Paul Holmes ran alternative comedy site The Velvet Onion for eight years, and has written for Arts Council England, Music News, various theatres and the rock band Queen. Follow him on Twitter: @didymusbrush