Ginger and Rosa, directed by Sally Potter (Orlando, Yes) is an intense coming of age drama centred around the two eponymous heroines – although in effect it’s very much just Ginger’s story. The teenager daughter of two painfully bourgeoise bohemians – a pacifist philosopher and a failed artist-turned-housewife, we follow ginger through 1960s London as she comes to terms with her family, her friends and her increasing fear and paranoia about nuclear war and her subsequent involvement in CND.
The main problem Ginger and Rosa faces is, as a character study, is that none of the characters – Ginger included at times – really seem that interesting or empathetic. For a start everyone is so numbingly, stiflingly upper class – in fact Potter’s swinging sixties London seems to be utterly bourgeois, there’s no hint of deviance from this anywhere. Combined with some at times terribly clunky dialogue, meant to remind us that these people are intellectuals and that it’s the 1960s (“Are you not worried about the crisis?” “What crisis?” “With the missiles in Cuba!”), I struggled to find myself really caring about anyone by the third act, as it threatened to descend into stiff upper-lip melodrama. Similarly the bizarre decision to use American actors for British roles too frequently jars you out of belief suspension – Elle Fanning just about holds the accent together, but poor Christina Hendricks really doesn’t, which is a tragedy as the rest of her performance feels note perfect, and her role as Ginger’s mother is by far the most potentially interesting and sympathetic character. It’s an even stranger choice when Annette Bening and Oliver Platt get to keep their own accents by playing inexplicably American characters.
All of which is a huge shame, as the premise itself is interesting – especially Ginger’s obsession with nuclear holocaust as a metaphor for her own family and emotional crisis. And the movie is fantastic to look at – Potter and cinematographer Robbie Ryan clearly having a brilliant eye for lighting and mood; London feeling both wide-open and claustrophobic in turns, an urban wasteland still reeling from the destruction of the war. In fact the city is by far Ginger and Rosa’s most interesting character and performer, and almost makes the movie worth seeing on its own.
This review was based on a press screening at the Watershed, Bristol. The movie is playing there – and nationwide – from Friday 19th October.