REEL Review – Lovers Rock (2020)

Director: Steve McQueen | 1h 10mins | Drama

Set in 1980’s West London, the film follows numerous guests of a party as they engage in romance, drama and dancing.

When asked about the meaning of his Small Axe series Steve McQueen said: “it’s a celebration of Black Culture.” His first film, Mangrove, was a triumph in of itself as a roaring protest piece based on the true story of Londoners who are put on trial and fight against the brutality of the police. But there’s an argument to suggest that Lovers Rock achieves a higher celebration all on it’s own. And it does so within the confines of one steamy, gorgeously paced night that sees a number of people meet for a party in 1980’s London. 

The backdrop sees people getting ready for a party in a big house. McQueen flows through each room to create an instantaneous sense of significance within the setting, following numerous women as they cook and prep for the festivities, as well as a few guys who are setting up the music system. The importance of this house is that, for this one night, it’s going to be the central reservation of romance, drinks, drama and, most salient, a place where a group of people can feel so at home. 

The film’s lack of narrative structure and untameable camera means that there’s no discernible main character. There’s a birthday girl named Cynthia who’s looking for a little male attention, a DJ who is only there to make sure everyone has a good time and the closest thing to a main character, Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn). Despite the intertwining stories and the film’s tendency to linger on action, everything seems to flow through her, even when the film still wants to make commentary in it’s own way. 

It’s a film with a great tone of passion and happiness, but through a single character McQueen is able to find the depth and true meaning of the film’s setting…

She enters the party with her friend Patty (or Beef Patty) and eventually ends the night with a young guy named Franklyn (Michael Ward), but during the night she sees and endures all the troubles a young black woman suffers from. After fending off a persistent guy in a flashy all white suit, she later has to stop him from raping Cynthia in the garden. She also leaves the party but is stopped by a group of aggressive white guys lingering in the street. It’s a film with a great tone of passion and happiness, but through a single character McQueen is able to find the depth and true meaning of the film’s setting – a place in which people can live freely in spite of the horrors existing around them. 

The music is fantastic, it’s not just a catchy accompaniment but an integral part of the film’s freeness and spirit, as well as being a key component of two particular scenes. One is when the dance floor turns into an animalistic burst of passion from the song “Kunta Kinte Dub” by The Revolutionaries, but the best scene by far is when the entire dance floor engages in a sensual silence while listening to “Silly Games” by Janet Kay. The scene quickly develops into a passionate singalong and what rings true is the sense of community between them all: In this space they are living free in the face of adversity, and it’s one of the greatest parts of the film. 

At the end of the film McQueen dedicates it to all the “Lovers and the Rockers”, something that feels so befitting such a wonderfully crafted ode to those people who live so liberally. Also, despite the specific representation that McQueen is providing, Lovers Rock unlocks something in our own nostalgia, helping us to remember those moments that left us in a state of euphoria the following morning. This is all achieved without a rigid structure to work with, one that doesn’t feel like McQueen’s usual style but proves his versatility as a director. Warm, stylish and oozing personality, Lovers Rock is a beautifully short feature that will stick with you. 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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