The British film industry has always had a troubled (and troubling) relationship with the working classes. Most likely due to the inherent socio-economic bias within the sector. More often than not they’re depicted as plucky underdogs or the chirpily oppressed. We often end up with the middle-class laudanum of the likes of I, Daniel Blake or insipid rags to riches tales. Thankfully, film-makers such as Andrea Arnold and Clio Barnard working to get real voices heard. Like Fish Tank, James Gardner’s Jellyfish also follows a fifteen-year-old girl struggling with the situation she finds herself in.
Sarah Taylor (Liv Hill) lives in Margate with her mother (Sinead Matthews) and two young siblings. Her childhood is unorthodox, to say the least. Due to being severely depressed, her mum struggles to make it out of bed at the best of times so she has to do everything for them. When not running the home or being bullied at school she works part-time at an arcade; making extra money from the punters when the owner (Angus Barnett) isn’t looking. Her drama teacher (Cyril Nri) feels her anger and cutting wit should be channelled into stand-up comedy at the school’s graduation showcase.
Jellyfish is a powerful drama which hinges on a stunning breakout performance by Liv Hill. As the world around her begins to cave in, she delivers a pitch perfect and immaculately balanced acting showcase. Gardner’s directorial debut is beautifully judged. Never stumbling into cliché or melodrama. There’s an air of inevitability to Sarah’s plight. One which only her bravery and determination can alter. Jellyfish is a disturbing and moving portrait of lost childhood and inner strength.
Jellyfish is out in cinemas on 15 February.