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A Magazine for Sheffield

If Beale Street Could Talk

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If Beale Street Could Talk is a colourful film about fading.

Both in its examination of race and love, it shows how hope and longing are just a step from burning out and giving up. It's a court drama without a single scene in court. It's a love story without a happy ending.

From its opening scene in a vibrant New Orleans to its closing scene in a sterile, lifeless prison, this enthralling drama stirs up expectations about justice and fulfilment, then drowns them in stark realism that smells like sawdust, rain on the windowsill and the lingering scent of someone you used to be allowed to touch.

Sure, the story of Tish and Fonny, two black lovers in sixties America is based on prose - namely the novel by James Baldwin of the same name - but director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight) knows his material wisely enough to play it like poetry.

When Fonny gets wrongfully accused of rape and both the main characters' families would do anything to prove his innocence, the scene is set on autopilot for a sappy, Oscar-bait drama with a pre-packed happy ending. But instead of taking this route, Jenkins starts jumps around time - through upheaval, discovery and sorrow - while carrying the story to an ending that is just as silent as it is heartbreaking.

KiKi Layne and Stephan James are pitch perfect in the leading roles and Regina King's Academy Award for portraying Tish's mother Sharon was not at all undeserved. But it's Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton who watch them, show them to us and bring out the true essence of this story. They show us the poetry crawling into this sad, melancholy tale. They are the ones who turn the painful ordinary into sublime tragedy.

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