Lover’s Rock, the second film in the Small Axe anthology, is an ode to the romantic reggae genre “Lover’s Rock” and to the youth who found freedom and love in its sound.
Amarah-Jae St Aubyn makes her screen debut opposite the BAFTA 2020 Rising Star award recipient Micheal Ward in Oscar and Golden Globe-winning filmmaker Steve McQueen’s passion project of 10 years, Small Axe, which comprises five original films.
Viewers of a certain age will identify with how Lover’s Rock perfectly captures the ritual of young love at Blues parties. For example, if a man wanted to dance with a woman, he would touch her elbow and let his hand slide down to her hand. If the woman wanted to dance, she would let the man lead her to the floor. If she didn’t, she would pull away. This is just one of the intricate details that plays out in Lovers Rock.
The film, set around a house party in 1980s London, faithfully recreated the ambience and trends of such parties, which took place in homes, a situation born out of necessity when Black Londoners were unwelcome to revel in white nightclubs. Amid the West Indian community’s can-do attitude, blossomed a Blues party culture. A sanctuary of sorts, where sweethearts could dress up, pay a small admission fee, dance to romantic Reggae songs, buy beers, eat goat curry and rice and joyously celebrate life without apologies or restrictions.
Lovers Rock is different from the other Small Axe films in that it does not tell a true story of a person or group of individuals taking on the system but is rather a collective reimagining of a time and place very precious to West Indian Londoners.
Relative newcomer Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn plays Martha, a rebellious and romantic teenager, who sneaks out of her house to go to one of the home-brewed parties. While there, Martha meets Franklyn (Micheal Ward), a flirtatious stranger who seduces her into dancing with him all night even after her friend Patty (Shaniqua Okwok) decides to go home early.
“A lot of our crew, which I was very adamant about, were Black. And that’s who was on set and without that, that wouldn’t have happened.”
The film features an exciting new cast including Kedar Williams-Stirling (Sex Education), Ellis George (Doctor Who), Alexander James-Blake (Top Boy), Kadeem Ramsay (Blue Story) also star, as well as Francis Lovehall and Daniel Francis-Swaby, who make their screen debuts.
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn shares how she researched her role. She said: “For me, a lot of my preparation for the role came from my mum’s experience and I did lots of research into the music and fashion of that time. From there, I started to develop Martha and discover her favourite music, interests and what she would like to wear.” She continues, “Once we started filming, I began to learn what triggered my character and discovered how she may have felt, so I developed her even further from being on set.”
Micheal Ward adds: “When I discovered Amarah got confirmed for the role, we didn’t hold back. We did our own rehearsals where I went to her house and worked on the scenes. We got to know each other more. I met her family as well who were very much in touch with the themes, music and dancing that is in Lovers Rock and that really helped with understanding the nostalgic element of this story.”
“You don’t see that very much in cinema – of Black people having that total, absolute lack of inhibition.”
One of the most powerful scenes in Lovers Rock fittingly involves music. Swaying rhythmically to the sweet sounds of Janet Kay’s 1979 hit “Silly Games,” a packed room of dewy revellers devotedly sing along and when it ends, continue the tune a cappella for five uninterrupted minutes. The strength and jubilance of the voices in the crowd transports the audience back in time 40 years, while also striking a timeless need for fellowship, closeness, likeness and love.
Steve McQueen commented: “For me, that was an essential part of that party. It was about that sort of liberation, that freedom, that spiritual nakedness. That’s what I wanted to see. You don’t see that very much in cinema – of Black people having that total, absolute lack of inhibition. Honestly, I know that it was only made possible because of my crew.”
With no restrictions on the direction of his film and the freedom this brings, McQueen shared of the “Silly Games” scene: “A lot of our crew, which I was very adamant about, were Black. And that’s who was on set and without that, that wouldn’t have happened. I don’t think people would’ve felt free enough to let go.”
Lover’s Rock captures a beautiful era faithfully brought back to life, bringing many happy memories for the older generation and inspiration to younger audiences.
As St. Aubyn said: “This is us coming together and celebrating our life and celebrating our culture. The film is a lot about music, as well. It’s going to be so relatable to people of that time, which is really exciting. My dad was a Reggae artist back in the day. So, it’s especially relatable to both my parents as it’s stuff they have experienced. It was really exciting to be able to tell their story.”
Watch the trailer for Lovers Rock:
Lovers Rock, part of the BBC Small Axe anthology, coming to BBC One and iPlayer on Sunday 22 November and on Amazon on 27 November 2020.