A young Nigerian boy farmed out to a white Tilbury family joins a gang of skinheads as a teenager in Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s debut feature, Farming

Film Review by Carmen Paddock | 24 Jun 2019
  • Farming
Film title: Farming
Director: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Starring: Damson Idris, Kate Beckinsale, John Dagleish, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jaime Winstone, Genevieve Nnaji, Zephan Amissah, Tom Canton, Theodore Barklem-Biggs

In Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s debut feature, farming refers not to agriculture but to the informal fostering of thousands of Nigerian children by white working-class British families. This account is based on the childhood of the writer and director. Enitan bounces between his Nigerian birth parents and the foster mother who takes on farmed children with industrial enthusiasm. The young man’s situation just deteriorates from there, and Akinnuoye-Agbaje clearly signposts the key moments in Enitan’s life that lead him to schoolyard violence, suspension and the first fateful encounter with the Tilbury Skins – who he eventually joins but can never belong to. 

The camera lingers on Enitan’s face at each stage of his life, allowing the impact of rejection, abuse and degradation to register. Damson Idris movingly captures this vulnerability even in the film’s action sequences, never letting the audience forget the boy behind the fascist mask. The other actors get fewer opportunities at complexity but are nonetheless strong; Kate Beckinsale captures foster mother Ingrid’s imperfect affection for her children/livelihood and Gugu Mbatha-Raw brings light and grace to the teacher who refuses to give up on the young man.

The relentless violence of Enitan’s coming-of-age – notably among the skinheads – is an assault on the senses. The physical and psychological beatings are always in full view, with the skinheads’ knives and brass knuckles accentuated. In other scenes, unfortunately, there is a tendency to go straight for melodrama. This creates a distance in the character development, detaching viewers before immediately battering them – and Enitan – once again.

Farming sheds light on a complicated, lesser-known aspect of Britain’s 20th-century history, contextualising Enitan’s story in wider systemic exploitation and the socio-political attitudes contemporary to Enoch Powell. While the storytelling is somewhat emotionally distant and reactive, it highlights the systemic cracks thousands slipped through and the cycle of violence that ensued for one such man.

Farming had its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival

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