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Till – BFI London Film Festival 2022

Reviewer; Richard Maguire

Writers: Michael Reilly, Keith Beauchamp and Chinonye Chukwu

Director: Chinonye Chukwu

Screening at this year’s Mayor of London’s Gala at the BFI London Film Festival is Till, a beautifully shot film about a terrible racist murder in Mississippi in 1955. Till is the last name of Emmet known as Bobo who is killed by white supremacists in the little town of Money. But at the centre of this true story stands his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, determined to get justice.

As Mamie, Danielle Deadwyler gives a towering performance. Under Chinonye Chukwu’s direction there’s hardly a moment when she is not on screen and frequently the camera hones in on her face, including a powerful long take when she gives evidence in court. In this scene, Deadwyler moves from a barely-contained grief to an eloquent anger as unseen questioners quiz her about her son. One lawyer suggests that the bruised, disfigured and swollen body of the boy she has just buried could be the body of someone else.

While Till is Deadwyler’s film, standing out from the large cast are Frankie Faison who play’s Mamie’s father, anguish spilling out of his stoicism, and Whoopi Goldberg as her mother, who, in one breathingtaking tableau scene, reaches out to a table as if it could give her succour. Also excellent is Dr Who’s Tosin Cole who plays Medgar Evers a civil rights activist who works for the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). Jalyn Hall gives Bobo a cheeky bravado that comes easy to a 14-year-old boy living in Chicago. Despite his mother’s many warnings, Bobo just doesn’t believe that the rules for black people are so different in the South. Hall captures Bobo’s innocence perfectly.

With a colour palette that focuses on sunshine yellows, bright reds and pastel blues, Chukwu’s film looks stunning and painterly. Every shot is a work of art, meticulously arranged. Especially memorable is the scene where Mamie, stood on a Chicago train station platform, waves goodbye to her son. And then, as the train crosses the Mason Dixon line, Chukwu shows a single file of black people moving down the train to go to separate and segregated carriages. The interior of the train is rich with velvet drapery, each colour specifically selected.

The same attention to detail is given to costumes and surely designer Marci Rodgers has a good chance of an Oscar next year for her colourful 1950s clothes. Deadwyler wears a different outfit for each scene, including a mauve silvery one that shimmers in the sunlight for her first day in court. The men’s clothes are just as sumptuous – Bobo’s socks and shoes, for instance – with every stitch precisely rendered.

With so much to admire in the film, the story is sometimes in danger of coming second to Chukwu’s vision and Abel Korzeniowski’s swirling score is occasionally too invasive. But giving the film its gravity is Deadwyler, who gives Mamie a quiet dignity. Her gripping portrayal of a mother who becomes a civil rights leader ensures that the Till is a biopic of the highest order.

Till is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Beautifully shot biopic

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