Tuesday, February 12, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk – immerse yourself in a beautifully-told story about love and racial injustice (from 14 February)

Fonny and Tish grew up in Harlem, playing together as friends. But in adulthood they’re falling in love and from our plush cinema seats we watch their lips finally lock. Their hesitant and adoring touch is breath-taking to watch in If Beale Street Could Talk. Yet just as their lives begin to inseparably interlock, a crooked justice system intervenes with a false charge of rape that sees Fonny held behind bars while he awaits a trial stacked against him.

Adapting James Baldwin’s novel, director Barry Jenkins has created a beautiful piece of unhurried cinematic storytelling. From the first time Tish asks “Are you ready for this?” the dramatic tension begins to tighten and the audience are left with questions … and trusted to figure out the answers without too much help. Flashbacks make sense without having to be labelled.

The near constant sound of jazz is restrained and mostly allowed to remain in the background. The costume colour palette matches the autumn leaves underfoot as the lover birds coo over each other. The camera lingers on full facial closeups as Fonny and Tish gaze across the dinner table or through the glass in the prison visitors’ room. Their conversation is shown to be as intimate as their lovemaking.

KiKi Layne and Stephan James’ faces switch between joy and trepidation. Layne is brimming with heart-felt empathy, wearing Tish’s vulnerability on her sleeve while James internalises Fonny’s fears until he allows them to explode out into the open. His physical failure in some later scenes adds to the darkness of the mood.

The two mesmerising central characterisations are backed up by great performances from Tish’s family sisterhood (Teyonah Parris and Regina King) and Fonny’s super-spiritual and over-judgemental clan (Aunjanue Ellis, Ebony Obsidian and Dominique Thorne).

If Beale Street Could Talk tells the story of racism, prejudice and injustice through the eyes of one young woman whose fortitude and hope in the midst of change, uncertainty and new life is thoroughly uplifting. Funnier than Moonlight, it has a similar intensity and the same love of dreamy silence over wordiness.

You can immerse yourself in If Beale Street Could Talk from Thursday 14 February in the Queen’s Film Theatre, Omniplex and Odeon cinemas.

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