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Justine

Director – Jamie Patterson – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 82m

***1/2

LGBQT romance. Fiercely intelligent, young woman living in Brighton with no prospects falls for a student teacher – out exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, February 5th

A young woman with a bruised lip soaks in the bath. Her landlord pounds on the door of the flat demanding rent. She gets out of the bath – in wet clothes, and answers, putting him off ’til another day.

Welcome to the world of Justine (Tallulah Haddon) – young, intelligent, in good health and damaged. She fills a plastic water bottle with vodka and swigs from it regularly. She hangs out and goes shoplifting with her best mate (Xavien Russell) who has his own problems – his mother has a new boyfriend who’s all over her and he can’t bear to be in the house. Regular meetings with her probation officer (Sian Reese-Williams) suggest a young woman closed in on herself, desperate for love and affection. No educational qualifications. No job. Lacking hope or ambition for anything. Except, perhaps, death or oblivion.

And yet, she loves to read. And one day browsing and lifting in a bookshop she spots a young woman. And something happens.

Rachel (Sophie Reid) is an English Lit graduate studying for a teaching certificate. Justine is initially and cruelly dismissive, but Rachel persists and gets a date, a trip to the movies, after which they go back to Rachel’s flat where one thing leads to another. Rachel has something Justine doesn’t: prospects. Also, she has enough money to run a small car (the bank of mum and dad? it’s never explained). Whereas Justine’s dad walked out on her mum years ago and she’s not seen her mum for two years, even though she has the house key and regularly visits the premises. Which, tellingly, not only suggests that her mum isn’t short of money but also is packed full of books in bookcases.

Justine and Rachel appear made for each other. But Justine is ill at ease with herself and their relationship is on then off then on then off. Can she sort herself out and get it together? Is Rachel strong enough to provide the support Justine so desperately needs?

This is a strong and striking, character-driven script by Jeff Murphy, perfectly cast and directed with flair by Patterson. It may not be quite as deeply affecting as Tucked (Jamie Patterson, 2018), which the latter also wrote. It shares with that film a fascination for damaged individuals who don’t quite fit in the world and struggle to find their place. Where Tucked is about two men looking out for one another as friends, this new film is much more of a full on, sexual romance – but there’s a similarity in that it’s about two individuals who become friends, one looking out for the other.

The romantic / physical aspects are well-handled, particularly a defining, poster, race you to the sea on a deserted beach scene with striking performances from both leads. This is basically Justine’s story, but there are moments when it switches over to Rachel’s, as for instance when she’s alone on the train heading out of town for five weeks teaching placement in Barcelona. And Patterson uses a well-chosen group of actors to bring a cluster of minor characters to life, notably Russell as Justine’s best mate who gets the most screen time out of all of them. The others include Reese-Williams’ probation officer, Nathan Ariss as a friendly local shopkeeper of whom Justine takes advantage and single scene appearances from Steve Oram as her hospital doctor and Kirsty Dillon as her estranged mum.

The other element the film has going for it is its Brighton locations. Perhaps it could have been any British seaside town, but Brighton fits the bill and provides a pleasing enough backdrop.

A good little film and well worth seeing. Nothing to be ashamed of even if Patterson hasn’t quite achieved the high of Tucked this time round, and a great showcase for a good cluster of unforced performances from strong British acting talent. Script, directing and performances here seem to understand the characters’ emotional journeys and the resultant film carries you along with it.

Justine is out exclusively on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, February 5th.

Trailer:

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