Adapted from Baldwin’s 1974 novel of the same name, If Beale Street Could Talk is set in 70s New York, ridden with prejudice, where our lead couple Tish and Alfonzo (referred to as ‘Fonny’ throughout) battle against the discrimination around them. The particular predicament that the loved-up duo found themselves in is the false sexual assault accusation against Fonny. Encrypted with controversy and corruption, Fonny is imprisoned with no sure sight of freedom. Outside the confines of his prison cell is Tish, his darling partner whom he often refers to as “wife”.
Early in the film, we learn that Tish is pregnant with Fonny’s baby, a piece of news that divides relations between her belated parents and the scornful mother and sisters of Fonny’s relatives. At one moment, Fonny’s mother delivers a venomous speech declaring for the miscarriage of Tish’s baby, amidst fears that the child will have no responsible parent. What Mrs Hunt fails to realise, however, is that this baby gives strength to her son, acting not only as an extension of his loving partner but as a symbol of hope for a new life detached from the hatred that Fonny has encountered. The ensuing drama triumphs in the way that it exceeds one set temporal space. Instead, Jenkins raises a mirror to our own world and visualises the power of love in times of desperation.
A film that is bold and beautiful, challenging and charming, yet remains widely accessible through its message of unity.
From the way that the director merges the soft jazz of Nicholas Britnell’s score with the romance of our lead characters, to the detailed close-ups of John Laxton cinematography that allow us to gaze into our characters sensations, Beale Street is an altogether immersive experience. What makes this approach so rewarding is that the film gives new life to Baldwin’s literary work. Where other adaptations simply screen their source material, Beale Street textures its interactions with intricate details. These items, be they the sharp patterning of Tish’s dresses or the vivid lighting of Fonny’s basement, are vital components for world-building; without them, audiences senses are far removed from their viewing.
Thankfully, Jenkins and everyone behind Beale Street leave no stone unturned, creating a film that is bold and beautiful, challenging and charming, yet remains widely accessible through its message of unity.
Rating: 5/5 stars