Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen, 2020, UK)

                Lovers Rock represents the third episode Steve McQueen’s anthology Small Axe, which consists of five films which tell stories about West Indian immigrants in the UK during the 1960s and 1970s. While released as a series, most critics have treated each episode as an individual film, and I will be following their lead. Lovers Rock caught my attention after it skyrocketed near to the top of Metacritic’s Film Critic Top 10 of 2020, a tally of year-end top ten lists (it currently sits at #3).

               Perhaps due to the nature of 2020 and the coronavirus pandemic, Lovers Rock has an innate appeal. The film takes place over the course of a single night, showcasing a reggae house party in West London. The characters, who are almost nameless, enjoy what the entire world has been deprived of for the last year. There is not much in Lovers Rock in the way of plot, but the story does explore a developing romance between two attendees at the party – Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and Franklyn (Micheal Ward). While the story does hint at greater issues, including racism and sexual violence, it is mostly content to focus on the party and not explore the greater context of the world occupied by the partygoers.

               While there is a sensuous and enjoyable quality to the proceedings, the film does start to grow a bit tiresome at about the 20-minute mark. While the music and Shabier Kirchner’s cinematography do much to elevate what is essentially an extended party sequence, there is not enough dramatic tension or enough visual flourishes to truly keep things interesting. The end result is pleasant but not particularly revelatory, and I believe I will need to turn to other episodes of Small Axe to see what all the fuss was about, particularly Mangrove.



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