Lynn + Lucy review – British debut is stingingly insightful

Fyzal Boulifa's drama is a cut above most kitchen-sink debuts and features an outstanding turn from newcomer Roxanne Scrimshaw

It could be said that a lot of British film debuts tend to feel all too similar to one another. They pick a semi-urbanised corner of the country, find a kernel of absolute misery within terraced houses, and go from there. Glancing at Lynn + Lucy, it might appear to be cut from this same Loachian cloth, though in spite of its familiarities Fyzal Boulifa’s film sets itself apart with a formal ambition and a powerful insight into the ugly thoughts brought about by stress and frustration.

Lynn (newcomer Roxanne Scrimshaw) and Lucy (Nichola Burley) are lifelong friends in a working class community in Essex, fast approaching their thirties and the new life expectations that such a decade brings. Lynn, who had a kid at 16 and has been with the father ever since, is generally satisfied, though she wants to start working after years of being a stay-at-home mum. Lucy, on the other hand, is in crisis. She has a new baby with a horrible younger boyfriend, and the chaos of their lives puts them on a collision with an inevitable, hideous tragedy.

Boulifa spends the first quarter of the film building to this event, conjuring an oppressive, even stomach-churning atmosphere as Lucy drunkenly fights with her boyfriend. It’s such a painful wait that when the inevitable tragedy does come it does so feeling like a sort of sick relief to both Lynn and the audience – the worst is over and a shaky new chapter can begin.

Slowly but surely the community turns against Lucy, and Boulifa examines how class and gender solidarity can splinter under these immense pressures. Eventually, even Lynn starts to resent Lucy, seeing in her mania and depression a problem that refuses to be solved. Having found work at a hairdressers owned by an old school nemesis, Lynn is drawn into ever more venomous conversations with the other staff about Lucy’s circumstances.

Boulifa’s careful dialogue finds the brutality in these chats; offhand dismissals of the worthiness of a person’s life really sting, and Scrimshaw (in her film debut) plays Lynn’s reactions brilliantly. She’s a fantastic find, keeping Lynn’s true feelings just beneath the surface whilst remaining a compelling lead.

Though the story and setting remain resolutely “kitchen-sink” throughout, Boulifa still finds ways to sometimes let his style do the talking. Close up singles are used incredibly effectively, keeping characters trapped and isolated during conversations and immersive soundscapes bring Lynn’s upturned world to life.

Lynn + Lucy is gruelling, particularly in its damning dissection of our societal need to have someone worse than ourselves to look down upon. Regardless of the circumstances of the tragedy (Boulifa keeps the exact details hazy), people use it as a morbid stepping stone, a way to keep Lucy down and make themselves feel taller. There’s little light at the end of the tunnel, with a final scene that shivers with horror and injustice, but Lynn is such a well-drawn and well-acted protagonist that you still feel compelled to see her journey through.

Lynn + Lucy is now available to stream on BFI Player.

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