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British Film Review: Second Coming
Directed By Debbie Tucker Green
What if there was an immaculate conception in a middle-class black household in contempory south London? That’s the triple whammy that award-winning playwright Debbie Tucker Green posits in Second Coming, her film debut.
This crucial plot point is slow to emerge. At first, middle-aged Jax (Nadine Marshall in a subtle performance that the film relies on) discusses her unwanted pregnancy with her Job Centre colleague in their breaks, but its significance is left unexplained until much later. It’s gradually revealed that Jax was left unable to conceive after the birth of her son JJ (Kai Francis Lewis, an amazing debut and a young actor to watch). More than this, she has not had sex with her blue-collar husband Mark (realistic characterisation by Idris Elba), a railway track worker, or, indeed, anyone else for many months.
Second Coming is divided into sections counting down the weeks as the pregnancy progresses. But it’s well into the film before it’s divulged why this pregnancy is unusual. Meanwhile, Green creates realistic, choppy episodic, hand-held-camera-filmed scenes of mundane family life – mealtimes, bedtimes, parents and child scrambling to leave the house in time for work and school. There’s a second plot line involving JJ trying innocently but unsuccessfully to heal a bird that he and his school friend have injured whilst trying to coax it on the common. He brings it home and keeps it in his room in a box until Jax find it and turns them both out into the garden. This story runs in parallel but its significance is not made explicit.
As the story slowly unfolds, we gradually see the fallout of the inexplicable pregnancy on the family. Jax and Mark start to argue in a way they have never done as suspicions are aroused, accusations fly and no possible explanations are forthcoming. Is Jax sane? She herself doesn’t know. She has strange dreams – or maybe hallucinations. There are supernatural scenes of her alone in the bathroom with water pouring like rain through the ceiling and sudden bleeding. As the pregnancy continues, both she and Mark look on at her changing body and they wonder.
The longest scene is near the end of the pregnancy when Jax and Mark argue violently – Mark is unable to accept the situation – in a way they have never done before. They are overheard by JJ on the stairs and we see the pain in his face. The impossible strain mounts until Jax attempts suicide. As a result, she has to accept psychiatric help and her visions stop – so she says. The pregnancy is unaffected by all this, and, whilst alone on the common, in the spot that JJ loves, Jax’s labour starts.
Second Coming is an uneasy mixture of social realism, the supernatural and possibly Biblical allegory. The characters are psychologically complex, and it’s superbly acted. The final episode of the story is one year on at a happy family party to celebrate the infant’s first birthday in their sunny, laughter-filled garden. Everything seems normal on the surface – but is the significance of the birth still waiting to be revealed?
It’s a confident, intriguing and unusual film debut, though its pacing is uneven and it has some flaws. Is the pregnancy an immaculate conception or a reflection of Jax’s mental state? It’s so open to interpretation that it’s thought provoking for a long time afterwards. But ultimately any possible resolution is left so open that it’s as frustrating as trying to solve a riddle that has no solution.
'Second Coming' is released in the UK 5 June 2015
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