Adewale Akinnuoye-Abaje has produced a film that has the potential to be devastatingly brilliant. Yet Farming’s inconsistency disappointingly renders it nothing more than mediocre.
Akinnuoye-Abaje attempts to tell the story of his traumatic childhood, wherein he found himself adopted by a working class white family in England whilst his parents continued to work in Nigeria. This arrangement was part of an informal process that occurred in the 1960’s and 1980’s known as “Farming”. Eventually, a young Enitan – representing Akinnuoye- Abaje – soon finds himself part of a brutal group of fascist skinheads, denying his own identity and committing appalling acts of violence against other black immigrants.
The film’s successes come largely from its exploration of difficult themes; from internalised racism to the importance of family. This, combined with Kit Fraser’s hauntingly impressive cinematography, develop an appropriate tone to contextually tricky subject matter. Notably, the film’s cover image of talcum powder dashed across a tortured black face becomes a particularly poignant and ingeniously multifaceted representation of the film’s content.
In addition to this, some of the performances, in particular Damson Idris’ portrayal of the tortured protagonist, lift the quality of the film. His ability to display the character as both ruthlessly violent as well as one racked with deep underlying trauma deserves a huge amount of credit. Immense pain hides behind a mask of thuggery that Idris projects in a perfectly timed performance of contrasts.
Likewise, Mbatha-Raw delivers in her role as Enitan’s concerned teacher, with her contributions making up some of the most touching moments of the film. John Dagleish also terrifies as the cruel leader of the skinhead gang, menacingly pacing about the screen and instilling a palpable sense of fear in the audience.
However, aside from these performances, there is little else for which the film is noteworthy. It is difficult to pin down exactly why Farming fails to be gripping but a certain aspect is that a sense of audience immersion is severely lacking. We bear witness to horrific scenes of racist violence, but whilst these scenes fill us with disgust, they are simply not as impactful as they could be.
While the majority of the narrative is meant to have occurred in the 1980’s, the style of the film resembles that of a documentary filmed last week. Sets look, well, like film sets – that is to say, not authentic gritty environments. In addition to this, the use of music is clumsy at best. From blasting out at annoying and inappropriate moments to having one tense encounter played out in near silence, music fails to aid the audience’s engagement.
Aside from Dagleish, the other white skinheads are nothing short of annoying. Yes, to an extent they are supposed to be useful idiots, ignorant minions meant to carry out their leaders bidding.
Yet with such poor, awkward performances, a lack of any sort of distinct features and entirely non-existent character development, it is absurd that they have so much screen time. In a sense, they become overused extras, contributing little of worth and instead detracting from any deep immersion which has not already been sabotaged by uninteresting dialogue and poor use of sound.
The concluding stages of Enitan’s journey feel rushed. Much of the film is dedicated to trying, and too often failing, to imbue us with a sense of dread as the protagonist struggles against himself and the corrupting influences around him. Thus, it is uncomfortably jarring and unsatisfying when the resolution is thrown at us out of nowhere.
Ultimately, despite its intriguing premise, Farming tragically fails to deliver. Although impressive in places, largely poor execution ensures it is nothing special – an injustice given the difficult subject matter it attempts to address.
Image credit: Louise Buckby via Flickr