Fish Tank is the second full-length feature film by director Andrea Arnold, after 2006’s Red Road. It follows the story of Mia Williams (Katie Jarvis), an antisocial teenager living on an East London housing estate.
Throughout the film’s duration, Mia, the central protagonist is subject to the harsh conditions of the estate where she lives. She communicates to her mother (Kierston Wareing) and sister (Rebecca Griffiths) in a series of piercing screams, and often finds she has to defend herself against her environment with the use of force.
It is only when Mia is truly alone that she is capable of becoming empathetic. Guzzling down alcohol in her spare time to deal with her everyday life, she seeks escape wherever she can find it. This leads her to the glamorous world of Rn’B and Rap, where she discovers an interest in urban dancing. Practicing alone in an abandoned room on the estate, she attempts to perfect her technique in order to escape her conditions and find something worth holding on to.
The film is as much a personal story as it is a social commentary. The character of Mia, though subject to conditions created by a particular political and sociological climate, is not merely a stereotypical working class figure, but a fully realised individual; like any real human being, she has individual dreams, aspirations, fears, and regrets. This is displayed perfectly within the film, owing to the director’s astute ability to create unique and interesting characters, as seen previously in Red Road.
Other characters that feature predominantly in Mia’s story are her mother, Joanne; her mother’s boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender); her younger sister, Tyler; and a local boy, Billy, played by Harry Treadaway. All of these characters witness the many sides of the girl, being exposed at different points in the narrative to both her anger and affection. They are also perfectly cast. Much of the film depends on the interactions between Connor and Mia, and Fassbender and Jarvis handle this confidently.
The film is an awe-inspiring piece of British cinema, carrying with it a strong sense of realism. It is beautifully shot and presented, and manages to retain an interest throughout its run.
If you are a fan of Andrea Arnold’s previous work, or a supporter of British Cinema in general, Fish Tank is a must-watch. It handles its subject excellently, treating it with the necessary depth and sensitivity.
Written by Jack Yarwood