Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank is remarkable in its unflinchingly gritty, yet often beautiful evocation of modern life on a council estate in Dagenham, Essex. The plot centres around fifteen year old Mia (played by newcomer Katie Jarvis, who Arnold discovered arguing with her boyfriend on a station platform), a girl with strong ambition, and a desperate desire to escape her barren, concrete-laden surroundings. The depiction of her family life is moving, and occasionally comic, with Rebecca Griffiths providing frequent light relief as Mia’s gobby younger sister.
Fish Tank is often shocking and unpredictable, remaining compulsive viewing despite the sporadic use of unappealing and upsetting events and images. The film retains its realism, but is arguably let down by a rather generic ending, that feels tacked on in order to provide closure, rather than written in keeping with the consistently true-to-life intent that is manifest throughout.
Only Britain could have produced such a understatedly poignant picture, in which a juxtaposition of the banal and depressing with the wistfully romantic leads to a mixed emotional response that never feels manipulated. Despite the bleakness of the protagonists lives, we never pity them. They are given identity and dignity, in a way Hollywood, with its clichéd cast of stock characters, could never achieve to an equally subtle and successful degree.