British playwright debbie tucker green (she prefers her name in lower case letters) chooses to introduce audiences to a British family of Jamaican descent in her debut feature film, Second Coming. The Jamaican angle presents a refreshing on-screen novelty, almost diaspora Ghana in feel, with the Jamaican patois along with the heavy London enunciation and speech flying over my head. Not enough Jamaican cuisine on-screen though, but food is the last thing in mind when this film kicks into gear.
The film’s title alludes to a key component of Christianity, but that point is handled with commendable subtlety and restraint, as green opts to focus on the individuals in her story to great effect, as affairs unravel into an austere but brilliant family drama. The film narrows in on Jax (Nadine Marshall), a middle aged woman who realises she is pregnant. There is a brooding unease early on (and indeed throughout this film) as Jax contemplates an abortion at lunch with her friend (Sharlene Whyte) as a cheery family celebrates a birthday in the background. The reason for all this uneasiness becomes clear when we learn Jax had not only been told she would never conceive again, but more importantly, she hasn’t been intimate with her husband Mark (Idris Elba) for a good while. The ambiguity card is dropped when we are made to believe Jax has not been with any other man either.
This mysterious pregnancy ties in with the title “Second Coming” and hints at the possibility of something supernatural in the works. But the allusion arguably ends with the title, because there really isn’t anything tangible that points to a miracle baby, and there could be some infidelity coupled with some troubling rationalisation in play. There is no overt attempt to reference certain biblical miracles or dabble in nudging allegory. We just have Jax’s face to make sense of, as the pregnancy begins to take a toll on her and her family. Her son JJ (Kai Francis Lewis) is warm to the prospect of a sibling but he is initially oblivious to the implications as far as his father is concerned. Mark, we already know, hasn’t had sex with his wife in a good while, so can he be faulted for thinking infidelity as his emotions traverse disbelief to justified anger to finally bleak resignation.
Elba is great here, the best I’ve seen him, as he conveys different emotional states with a certain level of understated gravitas. However it’s Nadine Marshall’s character our director fixates on, and rightly so. The director's camera stares incessantly at her probing for the truth as she too appears genuinely lost by the pregnancy. It’s almost like she is waiting for Jax’s eyes to twitch, or a subtle snicker to rubbish the mystery, but it never comes. Jax is just as perplexed by what is happening, even tortured. tucker green allows Jax’ mood to largely inform the bleak tone of the film, as the despair brought on by the realism of the situation slowly creeps up on us. No twists await, and those expecting a clichéd dramatic payoff will be watching the wrong movie.
tucker green is assured in her direction as she doubles down on the slow pacing and deliberate ambiguity. She handles the camera well and never loses interest in her characters as the tense drama unfolds. I was very impressed by how she handles a certain “math it out for me” scene, holding the camera on JJ’s face for just over 3 minutes as his dad vents his frustration and his mom recoils in front of him. She never cuts away from the young Lewis, terrific here, as the other actors speak. He stands in one spot by a doorway, hardly moving. Just his eyes switching from dad to mom in disquiet as the strain of the mysterious pregnancy is projected on to his innocent self – a brilliant gripping scene which remains as grounded as the rest of the film.
This script is as open ended as they come and that may frustrate most, but it ultimately elevates this film above the already compelling family drama it already is. Character perspective is everything here and once you understand that, you understand why tucker green shies away from tying any knots by the end of this exceptional film.