A tale of friendship, betrayal and dealing with the world around us, Sally Potter’s “Ginger and Rosa”, which screened at this year’s London Film Festival, stars Elle Fanning and Alice Englert as the titular characters. Best friends from birth, their lives begin to take different paths against the backdrop of early 1960s Britain, the Cuban Missile Crisis and a burgeoning protest scene against the nuclear bomb.
Alessandro Nivola plays Ginger’s father Roland, a lecturer with a wandering eye who follows his own rules, arrogantly ignoring the conventions of family life, and Christina Hendricks is Ginger’s mother Nat, who has given up her passion for art only to become an unhappy housewife. Ginger’s life begins to fall apart when Rosa begins an affair with Roland, and Ginger starts to crack under the pressure of keeping secrets, all while trying to make the world aware that it is in danger of being extinguished by a bomb.
“Ginger and Rosa”‘s biggest strength is Robbie Ryan’s cinematography; sharp and personal, never letting the audience remove itself from an uncomfortable scene. The film, though, is let down by a too simple metaphor that in no way attempts subtlety nor asks for any thought from the audience, and it is only the superb acting from Fanning and Englert that saves the film from melodrama.
Fanning, who first impressed many of us in Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere”, shines here, with a considered and nuanced performance. In a post-screening Q&A, Potter spoke of how over 2,000 girls self-auditioned over Facebook, but it took a casting director to send her Fanning’s way, and Potter knew instantly she had found Ginger. Just 13 when production began, there is no indication of this in Fanning’s performance when watching 17 year old Ginger. In Englert’s feature film debut, she brings Rosa to life and makes us care for her, despite her actions and the terrible ways they change people. It will be interesting to see how Englert fares in her next big screen outing, the anticipated adaptation of YA paranormal romance “Beautiful Creatures.”
“Ginger and Rosa” showcases the issues women faced during these times. “[I wanted the film] to explore how we’re in a bigger world… but the bigger world is in us as well,” Potter told the rapt Q&A audience. “The only way forward [for many women] was to be held by a man”, but by focusing on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, it also takes into the struggles and fears faced by many at the time. This isn’t a 1960s we recognize, a decade of hippies and free love, but 1962, a time very much still set in a 1950s mindset.
“Ginger and Rosa” is beautifully shot and filled with outstanding performances – the chemistry is key in this film and without the audiences belief in the bond between the two main leads, the films ending could not hold the same weight of intensity and emotion – but in the end, it is too self-aware to fully connect and bring home a satisfying conclusion.