London Film Festival:  The Fight

Writer and Director: Jessica Hynes

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

The filming process can change a story considerably, so while Jessica Hynes’ directorial debut was meant to be a Strictly Ballroom-like comedy about a mother falling in love with boxing, the script developed into a multi-layered family drama about fear, dysfunction and shaking-off the past, a story, Hynes explained at its London Film Festival debut, that is built on the everyday reality of working families.

Care-home assistant Tina is a harassed mother of three ground-down by the unceasing pressure of the daily routine, a husband who works different hours and troubled parents who decide to split. When her daughter Emma is bullied at school Tina confronts some of her own past actions while a local boxing club offers her a chance to find the fight within.

Filmed in just 12 days in Hynes hometown of Folkestone, The Fight is a thoughtful and carefully constructed drama that feels grounded in the social-realist films that are still a strong marker of the British film industry. Crucial to this is the use of documentary-cinematographer Ryan Eddleston who frequently makes low-budget movies in a constrained time-frame – a challenge he clearly relishes, although you never feel it has been put together in a hurry, nor does The Fightobviously cut any corners.

This owes much to Hynes’ considered screenplay which allows plenty of room for silent contemplation as characters interact with sparse dialogue, or sometimes none at all, giving them their reality. Deliberately, Hynes focuses on the internal struggles of her subjects, giving even the smallest role enough flesh to let the audience understand their motivation and why their behaviour has implications for everyone else.

Bullying is a core theme, one which affects the inter-generational cast in different ways, none of them cliched. Emma is attacked by a former friend who makes a counter-claim, an incident that replicates a similar incident in Tina’s own childhood that comes back to haunt her and resonates through a domestic abuse storyline that is gently managed. More time on all of these strands would be welcome, but Hynes’ gift is never to say too much but allow the scenarios she creates and the actors she trusts to imply more than we see. Each time it reflects on Tina’s inability to cope, to take charge and to protect her loved ones.

Hynes plays Tina herself, always a contained performer, she has an expressiveness that is both very subtle and hugely powerful. Tina is careworn and entirely broken down at the start of The Fight, unable to stand up for herself and has unwittingly taught her daughter the same passivity. But Hynes shows a different woman buried deep below the surface, one who finds her only solace in mindfulness tapes, running and ultimately the cathartic release of boxing.

The surrounding cast including Shaun Parkes as Tina’s devoted by exhausted husband, Christopher Fairbank as her silently troubled father and Anita Dobson as her remote mother make their mark while both the child actors playing Emma and her nemesis Jordan reveal their own quite suffering.

Folkestone has rarely looked so lovely, full of sunny days and gentle breezes against a permanent soundscape of seagulls, supported by music written separately in just two weeks and seamlessly woven into the movie in post-production. Hynes’ debut film is gentle and domestic with a carefully managed emotional impact. Clearly, the development process has been hugely beneficial; a funny boxing drama about female empowerment might have been alright, but there was clearly a much better story fighting to get out.

Release Date 17 October 2018 

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