Director: debbie tucker green
Cast: Nadine Marshall, Idris Elba, Kai Francis Lewis
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Who hasn’t heard of the Christmas story? There’s a woman called Mary. God works some mysterious magic. Her eggo gets preggo. And voila! The virgin produces the Messiah. But what would that ancient tale be like today?
That’s essentially the question asked by Second Coming. Playwright debbie tucker green’s feature film debut follows Jax (Marshall), a welfare officer who lives with her husband, Mark (Elba), and son. One day, she discovers she’s with child. But whose child is it? It can’t be Mark’s: the pair haven’t been intimate in a very long time.
Green, who has honed an ear for social realism on the stage, crafts a delicately convincing family world, one where language and emotions are shared between loved ones with a familiar ease. Idris Elba earns his reputation with a towering performance as the angry patriarch, who automatically assumes that his wife has been unfaithful. Whether railing against his boss or threatening his sister-in-law, he erupts in a way that manages to shock and convince: this is kitchen sink stuff, but far from soap opera territory.
Marshall, though, is the star of the show, her withdrawn presence drawing out the intrigue of her deliberately enigmatic situation: watery visions carry a current of miraculous conception throughout the drama, but things are never explicitly declared. Instead, it’s the domestic ripples that we swim in, a storm of upset that sweeps up their existing son, JJ; one scene that sees Kai Francis-Lewis’ offspring turned into a weapon in an argument only adds to the absorbing ambiguity.
The sense of eavesdropping on the family fallout is accentuated by the superb presentation. DoP Urszula Pontikos, who worked on Lilting and Weekend, observes with an intimately shallow focus, while the sound cuts in and out, as dialogue overlaps locations and hand-dryers drown out shouting matches. You can’t hear the words being said, but sometimes, things don’t need to be spelled out. Which person do you believe? It will frustrate many, but Second Coming’s strength lies in not being as simple as that: everyone on the screen is believable. When was the last time the average person said that about the Christmas story?