Running Time: 101 mins
UK Distributor: Signature Entertainment
UK Release Date: 19 January 2024
WHO’S IN THE END WE START FROM?
Jodie Comer, Katherine Waterston, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong, Joel Fry, Gina McKee, Nina Sosanya
WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?
Mahalia Belo (director), Alice Birch (writer), Adam Ackland, Leah Clarke, Sophie Hunter, Amy Jackson and Liza Marshall (producers), Anna Meredith (composer), Suzie Lavelle (cinematographer), Arttu Salmi (editor)
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
After a catastrophic flood, a young mother (Comer) sets out to find home…
WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON THE END WE START FROM?
British weather is often very, very wet. We, as Brits, know this from having lived through many downpours, and the rest of the world knows it too, with numerous jokes hurled our way about how rubbish our constant rainy weather can be. It’s a British trope that isn’t going away any time soon (unless climate change gets even worse than it already is), especially when films like Mahalia Belo’s The End We Start From go out of their way to show how crappy, and even borderline apocalyptic, our rain can truly get.
However, in addition to showing the destructive capabilities of British weather, Belo’s film – adapted by screenwriter Alice Birch from the novel of the same name by Megan Hunter – is also a tender look at motherhood that has enough emotional moments to make up for its somewhat light narrative.
The film begins as an unnamed woman (Jodie Comer) is waiting out the final days of her pregnancy in her London flat, when suddenly a massive flood, a result of the heavy rain that’s battering several parts of the country, forces her and other residents to flee, but not before she ends up giving birth to a baby boy, named Zeb (the only person, incidentally, to be named throughout the entire film). She and Zeb’s father (Joel Fry) initially travel to the country home of his parents (Mark Strong and Nina Sosanya) to wait out the storm, but a series of traumatic events soon force the mother and her baby on a journey through a newly-derelict Britain, and eventually on a perilous journey back home.
You’ve certainly seen this kind of movie before, where some big earth-shattering event disrupts society as we know it, while the often-nameless protagonist makes their way through a number of scenarios that show how primitive and desperate humanity can be. The End We Start From isn’t hugely different in that regard, especially next to other post-apocalyptic dramas like The Road or How I Live Now that more or less hit on similar if not the same dramatic themes that this film does. That can lead to a number of scenes that feel like they’re simply going through a checklist of post-apocalyptic conventions, from military-run shelter facilities to secluded communes who reject the outside world, to brief encounters with other survivors that are struggling to emotionally grasp the weight of their predicament.
It’s also one of those films where you can tell that the book it’s adapted from perhaps better details the emotional complexity of certain characters, because while Birch’s screen adaptation boldly opts for a subtler approach, one that relies more on the emotions conveyed by the actors than actual showing what’s happening, it ends up preventing much of a connection to the people we’re meant to be following. There are some great performances in this movie, not least by Jodie Comer who has the monumental task of carrying the whole movie next to the infant child she spends most of her time with, and there’s some strong supporting work by Joel Fry, Katherine Waterson as a mother that Comer befriends along the way, and even Benedict Cumberbatch who pops up for ten minutes as a fellow survivor. However, the script unwittingly puts up a noticeable barrier around its characters, to where you don’t know enough about them – not even their names – nor what they may be thinking or feeling in the moment, to truly empathise with some of the traumas they end up going through, which even the actors struggle to completely get across within their limited screen time in this rather muted narrative.
However, the film works best when it is simply focusing on the more intimate central story of this woman trying to protect her child in a new world of pure chaos. Beyond the fact that Comer’s performance really is quite stunning here, and easily ropes you into her journey even when the script struggles to convey it, there is a heartfelt simplicity to seeing this new mother do her best with her infant son amidst the taxing circumstances. Mahalia Belo’s sturdy direction allows this to take centre stage and dominate what little emotion you end up feeling for these reserved characters, while some gritty cinematography by Suzie Lavelle makes effective use of some creative shots that neatly disguise the film’s low-budgeted vision of societal collapse.
While it’s a flawed piece of work, especially in the narrative department, The End We Start From does ultimately have enough that’s interesting about it to make for an emotional, if light, viewing experience, which won’t change the post-apocalyptic movie rulebook by any stretch, but should at the very least breathe new life into jokes about the wet British weather (as if we haven’t had enough of those already).
SO, TO SUM UP…
The End We Start From is a post-apocalyptic drama that boldly opts for a subtler approach, but the light and conventional narrative prevents any real empathetic connection to most of the characters, despite strong performances from a cast led by the ever-excellent Jodie Comer.