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BFI London Film Festival 2018 Review: The Fight – “A debut film that more than punches its weight”

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Jessica Hynes might best known as a comedy actress, but it’s the drama of the everyday she ’s exploring in her first feature as a writer-director. The Fight deals in self-defence of the psychological as well as the physical kind. Tina (Jessica Hynes) spends all her time looking after people. The elderly people she cares for at work, three kids at home, and her parents who are in a state of marital crisis. In the rare moments, she does get to be alone; she takes her frustrations out on a punching bag at the local boxing gym. She balances self-defence with self-help by listening to a soporific audiobook, with a whispery-voiced narrator (Russell Brand) droning on about “the lamp of mindfulness within.”

Although there is plenty of love and affection in the family home, a crisis is looming. Tina’s husband Mick (Shaun Parkes) works nights, so there isn’t much time for long conversations about their son Jason, who may have learning difficulties and the fact their oldest daughter, Emma (Sennia Nanua) is being bullied by another girl at school. To make matters worse, the girl’s mother is a former school rival of Tina’s. Adversaries are hard to escape in a small coastal town.

Bullying is at the heart of the film, and the cyclical nature of violence, abuse and neglect that it can stem from. The Fight takes the subject seriously, but with a lightness of touch, and bitter-sweet sense of humour – a testament to Hynes’ writing and characterisation. All the characters are treated with empathy, and everyone is working through something. It’s refreshing to hear a woman articulate the kind of frustration many of us feel too. To hear the words “I’m not ok” said out loud, and unapologetically hits a nerve, because it’s rarely shown in films.

There is a lot of energy in the boxing gym scenes, particularly in the tough love coaching of the gym’s owner (Cathy Tyson) who barks things like “It’s not box-fit, it’s boxing.” But the film’s emotional power comes from the smaller moments. The father-daughter dynamic between Mick and Emma, Tina trying to understand her mother’s (Anita Dobson) behaviour, and a small, redemptive act of kindness from Tina towards another character later on in the film play out with heart, but not sentimentality. With a strong central performance and a stand-out supporting cast, The Fight is a debut film that more than punches its weight.

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