Rocks 'a vibrant coming of age story which affirms the dauntless spirit of girlhood'

Kosar Ali, Anastasia Dymitrow, Bukky Bakray, Tawheda Begum and Afi Okaidja in Rocks
Damon Smith

ROCKS (12A, 93 mins) Drama. Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali, Shaneigha-Monik Greyson, Ruby Stokes, Tawheda Begum, Anastasia Dymitrow, Afi Okaidja, D'angelou Osei Kissiedu, Layo-Christina Akinlude. Director: Sarah Gavron

YOUNG lives matter in Rocks, a vibrant coming of age story which affirms the dauntless spirit of girlhood through the eyes of a 15-year-old heroine and her resilient friends.

Created in collaboration between writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, a young cast of mostly first-time actors and a predominantly female creative team, director Sarah Gavron's film unearths glimmers of hope and joy in those moments which threaten to crush the human spirit.

Playful scenes of girls chattering in the playground or shooting handheld footage for social media channels are stripped of artifice, as if we are watching a documentary about teenage life at close quarters set to an exuberant soundtrack of London-born artists including Ray BLK, Little Simz, Raye and Mae Muller.

The naturalism of performances is one of the film's many strengths, led by the mesmerising Bukky Bakray, who allows herself to be vulnerable in front of the camera and expose the pain coursing behind her character's smile.

She shoulders the weight of emotionally wrought scenes with confidence beyond her years, often without having to say a word.

Olushola Joy Omotoso (Bakray) aka Rocks is attuned to the signs of depression that regularly consumes her mother Funke (Layo-Christina Akinlude). Consequently, the teenager is a fierce protector of her impish seven-year-old brother, Emmanuel (D'angelou Osei Kissiedu), shielding him from the precariousness of their situation on an east London estate.

When Funke disappears, leaving behind an envelope of cash and a brief note of apology, Rocks hides the truth from social services, best friend Sumaya (Kosar Ali) and a loyal crew comprising Agnes (Ruby Stokes), Khadijah (Tawheda Begum), Sabina (Anastasia Dymitrow) and Yawa (Afi Okaidja).

Rocks initially juggles responsibilities as bill-payer and carer, interspersed with blissful moments of exuberance with her friends. The cash eventually runs out and Rocks decides to keep her fractured family together by going on the run with Emmanuel.

A troubled girl called Roshe (Shaneigha-Monik Greyson) woos Rocks away from Sumaya and her posse with the promise of exciting new ways to make money.

However, reality eventually bites and when it does, there is no escape from trickles of despair.

Rocks paints a rich and compelling portrait of culturally diverse modern youth, told in dialogue improvised by the cast on location in London.

Gavron eschews sentimentality to realistically chart the rites of passage of protagonists on the cusp of womanhood, who draw comfort and strength from sisterly solidarity. Editor Maya Maffioli weaves together raw footage into a fluid, dynamic narrative.

Nothing feels contrived or forced – when the film winds up for an emotional punch, it connects honestly and we feel the impact down to the marrow of our bones.

Rating: 4 stars

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