In early Seventies Harlem, daughter and wife-to-be Tish (KiKi Layne) vividly recalls the passion, respect and trust that have connected her and her artist fiancé Alonzo Hunt (Stephan James), who goes by the nickname Fonny. Friends since childhood, the devoted couple dream of a future together, but their plans are derailed when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit…
On the release of If Beale Street Could Talk in the UK, here’s why it’s a must-watch…
IT’S DEEPLY MOVING
The film sees childhood sweethearts Tish – played by newcomer KiKi Layne – and Fonny (Stephan James) navigate life in Seventies New York. It’s Layne’s first major role and she owns it as one half of a young couple battling racism, corruption and toxic family dynamics. Told in a non-linear fashion, we learn early on in the film that Tish is pregnant and that a terrible injustice will strike at the heart of the story, when Fonny is arrested for a crime he did not commit.
IT’S FROM THE DIRECTOR OF MOONLIGHT
Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2017, was rightly garlanded for its portrait of young, gay, black masculinity. If Beale Street Could Talk is a similarly beautifully realised evocation of young black lives and love rarely seen on the big screen.
IT’S A PRESTIGE LITERARY ADAPTATION
The film is Jenkins’ adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel (he secured the rights before he started Moonlight). Jenkins stays close to the source material, as Tish, in voiceover, quotes lines from the book verbatim. Baldwin’s words, combined with the sun-soaked setting of Seventies Harlem and Jenkins’ trademark character close ups, give the film a strikingly poetic air.
One of the most agonising aspects of If Beale Street Could Talk is the knowledge that Tish and Fonny’s romance will be frustrated by forces outside of their control. Heartbreakingly, it still resonates as a forceful portrait of the injustices that continue to thwart people of colour in America.
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IT SHOULD BE AN OSCAR WINNER
Regina King won at the Golden Globes for her incredible turn as Tish’s mother, Sharon, who clashes with Fonny’s family over the couple’s romance. Fierce, brave and bold, King is amazing in the role. If there is any justice, she’ll take the Best Supporting Actress gong come Oscars night on 24 February.
If Beale Street Could Talk is in cinemas from 8 February.
Image: Annapurna Pictures