Directed by Sally Potter, Ginger and Rosa is a story of two young girls living in London in the 1960s. The film follows the girls as they struggle to deal with their dysfunctional families, in the backdrop of the heightened political tension surrounding the Cuban missile crisis.
From the opening of the film the historical context is hammered home, with a clip of the nuclear bomb hitting Hiroshima, followed by a brief clip of the devastation it caused. This is a dramatic opening to the film but its juxtaposition with Rosa and Ginger's mother giving birth is clumsy and a rushed piece of editing, obvious and lacking subtly, it feels like an editor ticking off a checklist. Historical context. Tick. Character context. Tick. This is a recurring problem throughout the film, the historical context of the Cuban missile crisis could have made a fascinating backdrop to the characters’ struggles but instead it repeatedly feels like it's been tacked on to the story with little thought.
At the start of the film we are quickly introduced to Ginger’s (Elle Fanning) family struggles with her father a free-spirited intellectual who feels trapped in domestic life, married to Natalie, who is an oppressed 1960s housewife, who has to repress her creative potential as an artist to fulfil her duties as a mother and can’t understand the liberalism of the new generation. It’s criminal to waste an acting talent such as Christina Hendricks with such a one dimensional character, who appears to be ripped straight out of a history textbook. All the characters seem to talk in platitudes, which appears shallow when the actors are given little breathing space to develop three dimensional characters as Sally Potter desperately tries to throw the Cuban missile crisis into every piece of dialogue she can, hoping that something will stick.
The period detail feels authentic, the anti-nuclear missile protest rallies are atmospheric as are the meetings but Ginger is so utterly unconvincing as a political activist that all the politics come across as entirely irrelevant to the narrative of the film, which makes it even more painful when the characters keep referring to it. When it comes down to it the script is the film’s downfall; it hangs upon the complexity of Roland, Ginger’ father, and in particular his relationship with his daughter, but neither actor puts in a strong enough performance to save this film from mediocrity. Rosa (Alice Englert) is clearly self-centred and egocentric and it’s her character that generates the film’s few laughs, but Potter pushes the character too far, Rosa’s solipsism is so exaggerated at times that she becomes almost a caricature.
There is a distinct feeling watching the film that a lot has been left on the cutting room floor, and a sense that there was a more interesting film hidden beneath the surface. Timothy Spall’s character, for instance, is intriguing but is not fully developed. There are also moments, particularly between Roland and Ginger, where you get the feeling that if the actors had been given a little more time to work on the scene they might have found something more in the dialogue that truly conveyed the characters' complex relationship.
Overall, the film strives for historical authenticity, and to a certain extent achieves this. The main issue is in that in all the focus on period detail, in all its urgency to convey the plight of those growing up in the 1960s, it forgets to be entertaining.
Ginger and Rosa is showing at Broadway until Thursday 1 November.
Ginger and Rosa official website