The three stories the film centres are based on a collection of several real-life experiences of unaccompanied minors coming to the UK and entering the asylum system: Zizidi (Yasmin Mwanza, debuting) from Guinea, who was circumcised as a child and suffered a stillbirth and a botched caesarean, was brutalised by her husband and his friends for trying to flee; Confident Omar (Noof Ousellam), the longest-staying refugee, who suffered at the hands of the Taliban in Afghanistan; Finally, Abdul (Zarrien Masieh, debuting), also from Afghanistan and newly arrived, who has suffered a similar plight. Dark secrets and UK Immigration interviews cast gloomy shadows over the new life they seek and threaten their leave to remain.
On the whole, Leave To Remain feels more improvised than scripted, very much documentary-style in production – as expected with Goodison’s guidance. That said the early appearance of Toby Jones as Nigel, their teacher and Good Samaritan providing support and shelter, plus the scenes of quiet reflection and flashbacks from some of the key cast members suggest otherwise. It is a curious mix that just about gels.
In letting those who have the real-life experience of some of the stories portrayed take the reigns, some filmic elements feel underdeveloped and less than polished, in terms of plot and acting. It is very much a low-budget student production. However, this does go to provide a harrowing realism when needed, though the more ‘staged’ scenes soon overshadow this.
Ironically, the actual ‘staged’ part of the story is the nativity play rehearsal, which is the most fluid in portraying the film’s lighter moments and revealing of the true personalities of the characters. Indeed, the plot leaves some things unexplained too, which jars when other characters get a background introduction of their predicament, such as the English teenage girl who shares Zizidi’s room; what’s her story as she seems crucial in helping the Guinean come out of her shell.
Mwanza and Masieh are quite remarkable for first-time actors and fairly competent in relaying the side effects of the horrors their characters have gone through. This may be because they, too, have been there, rather than their raw acting talent as such. However, both have a lot of untapped potential, should they pursue further acting roles.
Leave To Remain sets a refreshing new angle for future immigration fictional films, in adding to a richer, first-hand understanding of what asylum seekers go through. The fact that all the cast and crew have experience of such makes this trendsetting cinema.