The End We Start From  (15) |Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Mahalia Belo, UK, 2023, 101 mins

Cast:  Jodie Comer, Joel Fry, Katherine Waterston

Review by Carol Allen

Jodie Comer gives a terrific central performance in director Mahalia Belo’s debut feature film.  The screenplay is by Alice Birch, adapted from a novel by Megan Hunter but, perhaps because of the rather diffuse nature of the story, it lacks the intensity of Birch’s previous Lady Macbeth, which also featured a strong central female character.

The situation is a powerful, near future one.  The opening of the film is effective and dramatic.  The climate disaster we have been expecting is happening.   Relentless rain is falling and the rivers are overflowing, including the Thames and as the waters are teeming into her London home under the doors, a young woman (Comer) is starting to give birth.

Her partner (Joel Fry) gets her to hospital, where the baby is born but he then decides they would be safer staying with  his parents (Mark Strong and Nina Sosanya – both underused), who live in a remote area on higher ground.  But when the food supplies run low and  tragedy strikes the parents, their son makes the somewhat daft decision to take his partner and their new born baby on the road in search of food – a contrivance to enable the film to use the time honoured story telling device of the road movie, where the central character meets lots of other characters and faces challenging situations. 

Sympathy for Fry’s character is not enhanced by the fact that quite early on he decides to abandon his partner and the baby, leaving her to the support of  fellow new mother  (Katherine Waterston), who befriends her in the itinerant women’s commune she becomes part of.  There are also contributions from Gina Kee and Benedict Cumberbatch as others she meets on the way.

You will have noticed none of the characters have names.  In the cast list they are identified by letters of the alphabet – a bit of unnecessary pretension which contributes nothing apart from all the characters having to avoid sentences where using a name would be necessary.  Another departure from realism is the surprising sparsity of officialdom doing its bit.  There are a few emergency bodies present early on in the story  but this is in England, where the authorities love bossing people about.  Where are they?  Not, it would appear, in the beautiful but rainswept countryside where Comer and the baby spend most of the film, where one of the many challenges the narrative ignores is that of finding clean nappies for the baby.

What rescues the film however is Comer’s performance as a woman dealing with the challenges of new motherhood in this ultra challenging situation.  She is, as she has shown in previous roles, pretty brilliant and succeeds in making the film almost convincing for much of the time.  She even keeps our empathy when in desperation she uses a dirty trick to hijack a car from its owners, who are also struggling to survive.

The film is competently directed by Belo with good performances in what are, apart from Comer’s and to a lesser extent Waterston’s, rather thin roles.  And there are some effective if not unexpected sequences, as when an armed gang try to steal the commune’s food supplies.  But the story and the script are overall rather disappointing.  Without an actress of Cromer’s calibre, I doubt the film would have worked very well at all.  As it is, her performance saves the day.