You would be forgiven in thinking that Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s directorial debut is about nothing but agricultural issues but, in reality, what we have here is a thuggishly brutal coming-of-age step back into 80’s Britain rife with cultural racism. Inspired by his own childhood, writer/director Akinnuoye-Agbaje educates on the complexities of identity hatred for young black children forced to grow up in a typically white environment in an era of far-right extremism.
Farming was a term used mainly during 60/70’s Britain by Nigerian parents when they had to ‘Farm-out’ their children to white foster parents for a fee, which lasted many years. This is where Enitan’s (Zephan Amissah) story begins, fostered to a white couple in Tilbury, Ingrid (Kate Beckinsale) and Jack (Lee Ross); he was one of many young black children living under one roof. A sensitive boy, all he wanted was the love of Ingrid, but Ingrid reserved her compassion only for the girls she took in. On the receiving end of constant racial abuse at school, heartbreaking scenes play out when Enitan takes to covering his face in talcum powder. Starved of affection and acceptance, Enitan’s mental health decline begins to set in.
Now in his teens, the wounded Enitan (Damson Idris) has been subjected to years of mental and vicious physical cruelty when he comes across his first encounter with the fascist Tilbury Skins led by the callous sociopath Levi (John Dalgliesh). Trying to stand up to the gang at first, he ends up becoming their pet punching bag, but after all these years he finally feels accepted and transforms himself into their very image.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje doesn’t leave Enitan completely stranded, in a rather underwritten role; Gugu Mbatha-Raw steps into the frame as a concerned teacher. Although Enitan shows potential in her class she identifies that this young man is struggling and tries to help to set him on the right path but he is too far-gone, completely battered and brainwashed, her hand of help is slapped away in an act of terror culminating into a frenzied criminal pursuit that can only end badly.
Idris leads the cinematic performance charge with zeal, every emotional strain and vehemently aggressive void etched almost effortlessly across his conflicted face. Others in Enitan’s life like Beckinsale’s ice queen foster mother are nothing but fringe players but effective enough to rile feelings of contempt gluing each frame doggedly together.
Rough around the edges, this is far from perfect as it flits through the nuanced pace of intricacy. The long in development passion project for Akinnuoye-Agbaje hurtles full force into slamming the story home with its relentless violent action sequences. Some may question, is it too much to keep hammering the message of racial brutality like an anvil to the head? The answer is no, its aim is to shine a light on an almost forgotten period of harmful torment, and for the viewer to feel every single traumatising blow of malicious prejudice no human being should ever experience.
Farming is out in cinemas October 11th