Is This Now (2017) Social Drama With a Bite (Review)

John Altman and Sabrina Dickens

Anyone who has read Mike’s Film Talk at all knows that we love Independent Films, Asian cinema and British film full stop. “Is This Now” is the latest offering from the stellar actress Sabrina Dickens and was written and directed by Joe Scott; this is Scott’s fourth film and his second time working with Dickens.

(The Bristol actress pulled in the Best Actress Award in the 2017 WMIFF. If one watches the film it becomes easy to see why.)

“Is This Now” follows the day to day happenings of Ingrid (played brilliantly by Dickens); a council estate orphan raised in the social services system. The film starts with Ingrid sitting in a toilet. She is naked and her legs carry the scars of self harm that many young women commit in order to handle stress.

Ingrid is singing but without listening to the song (one of the many penned by singer/song writer Kaya Herstead Carney) we know already that the system has let this young woman down. Later we learn of sexual abuse at the hands of the men in her life and how it has affected her.

Anu Hasan is Ms. Murray,  the social services worker who looks after Ingrid and Brigid Shine is Jade; another young woman who becomes a part of the abused woman’s life. John Altman (best known for playing “nasty” Nick Cotton on Eastenders) is Johnny, a band manager for JOANoVArc (the members of the band play themselves), who is, perhaps, the first male figure in her life who does not abuse her.

The young woman is in that vicious circle that abused survivors often find themselves in: In trouble with the police and unsure of how to react to anything “normal.” “Is This Now” follows two story lines with the same protagonist starting both.

Murray (played compassionately by Hasan who is another Eastenders alumni) tries to find justice for Ingrid within the system while the young woman herself undergoes a journey of discovery. On a trip to France she meets up with Jade and discovers a young man who manages to break through that thick and angry wall just a bit.

Dion (Fabien Ara) lives with his aunt who has a great huge mansion and a delightfully eccentric outlook on life. As things progress, it seems that Ingrid is slowly overcoming the hurdles that life has put in her way…Or has she?

The film itself looks brilliant. Filmed, in part, in Wales and parts of Liverpool, everything looks as it should. The Council office look spot on and the streets, as well as the shops and, in fact, all the sets feel perfect. Anyone who has ever gone to deal with Social Services or the Job Centre will recognize the surroundings.

Scott helms this drama very well. The theme, as well as the overall feel of the film, is as English as a “cuppa” tea and just as authentic. The music, the dialogue of the young people and the professionals around them – Murray and the bureaucrats she deals with – are all presented with a sure and certain ring of truth.

The story hides a surprising sting that is as satisfying as it is disturbing. It offers the viewer something with a bit of bite and is does not disappoint.

All the performers knock it out of the park and Altman is a delight as the band manager with a heart of gold. Scottish actress Ruth Millar is wonderfully eclectic as the aunt who dispenses more than a little advice to Ingrid when she really needs it.

(Altman also sings a bit and it is surprisingly good. It takes him far away from the nasty bit of work he played in Eastenders for so many years and is yet another indication of what a capable actor he really is.)

Dickens kills it as the council estate girl who is wrung through the wringer by life and her own demons. This is an almost addictive drama and her performance, along with Scott’s writing and direction, compels the viewer to stick around for the end.

“Is This Now” is an award winning film (Scott won Best Narrative Feature and the movie has pulled in two other awards.) that features very little violence, a touch of nudity and some brutal yet socially aware themes; i.e. the sexual abuse of children.

It is a film that focuses on the human condition and not on gratuitous violence. It is currently running the festival circuit and it is highly recommended that film fans keep an eye out for its theatrical release.

“Is This Now” is a full 4.5 star film that does not fail to make one think about life’s victims and their struggle to cope with it all.  We care about Ingrid, Murray and all the friends that the damaged young people interact with throughout the film. This one is a winner.

Sabrina Dickens

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