Words by Jimmy Dougan (follow him on Letterboxd here) / Press images courtesy of BFI London Film Festival
Jodie Comer has a face of steely determination in this in this sensitively acted film from Mahalia Belo, directing her first feature length picture. It’s a tale of a new mother (Jodie Comer) escaping from cataclysmic flooding, trying to forge a future for herself and newborn son.
But it’s hindered by uneven pacing, and as it travels further and further away from civilization the tension all but evaporates and the narrative becomes oddly slack. A shame, The End We Start From feels like a far more disappointing film than it should be.
Belo’s film follows a nameless woman, first seen nude in the bath and watching her bump shift as the child within kicks. It’s a striking image, expressing a kind of quiet purity so lacking from much of the current cinema, but it’s one tinged with irony. A few moments later – rocked by contractions and getting understandably a tad panicked – the woman looks in horror as floodwater begins to seep in under the back door, and before long she’s wading through filth to get to an ambulance.
From here things only get worse; Britain is being rocked by extreme flooding, and what Belo’s film – adapted by Alice Birch from the novel by Megan Hunter – captures so well is how quickly things would go to absolute shit. The internet is down, so the NHS is forced to start keeping manual birth-registers, and the woman and her partner (Joel Fry) are forced to name their newborn son Zeb immediately else he’ll be legally registered as nameless.
Britain quickly becomes a network of what are effectively smaller islands, with villages on higher land refusing entry to non-locals. Fortunately, the woman and man can shelter with his parents (Mark Strong and Nina Sosanya) but when disaster strikes, they are forced to leave this idyll and descend into the real world.
The End We Start From will inevitably draw comparisons to Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men with its depiction of new motherhood in the face of societal collapse. But where Children of Men had a grimly sardonic edge with relentlessly intense action set-pieces, The End We Start From presents a far quieter slide into the end times: no car-chases or explosions, just desperate people slowly turning on each other.
Where the film’s feminism comes to the fore is when emergency shelters begin only allowing women and children, and the woman and her husband are forced to separate. It’s here she meets another new mum, played with droll warmth by Kathryn Waterston, who has a friend staying in a colony for the wealthy off the coast of the Scottish Highlands.
It’s here that the pace begins to meander though, and watching Comer and Waterston trudge across various fields with their babies lacks the momentum and stress of the film’s first half. And it heads towards an ending which feels rushed and contrived, a feeling exacerbated by the film’s short runtime.
It’s very rare for me to say this, but I’d have gladly taken another twenty minutes (let’s face it, Comer is so good that watching her butter toast would be gripping) if it meant Birch could tighten up the script’s pacing.
The End We Start From is a refreshingly feminist spin on genre typically dominated by male chauvinism, and it further affirms Comer as one of our greatest talents. Lovely too to see such a strong supporting cast of wonderful British actors, including the always-brilliant Gina McKee as the head of the island colony.
But make no mistake, this is Comer’s film: her face has the toughness of granite. It’s frustrating that she isn’t better served by the script, and as the film heads towards a weepy and laboured ending you can’t help but feel that The End We Start From is a bit of a damp squib.
The End We Start From – official trailer
The End We Start From will be released in UK cinemas on 19 January 2024. For more on The End We Start From visit www.mubi.com/en/gb/films/the-end-we-start-from
LFF screenings ran at MAC from 4 October until 15 October, for more info visit: www.macbirmingham.co.uk/london-film-festival-2023
To read more about the BFI London Film Festival go to: www.whatson.bfi.org.uk/lff
For more from MAC, including all events listings, visit www.macbirmingham.co.uk
To follow Jimmy Dougan on Letterboxed visit www.letterboxd.com/jimmydougan