Lynn + Lucy review – a devastating tale of friends disunited

Mark Kermode
·3-min read

A pair of electrifying performances lie at the heart of this terrific first feature by writer-director Fyzal Boulifa, a modern fable of tested friendships and public shaming. Screen newcomer Roxanne Scrimshaw is a revelation as Lynn, while Nichola Burley (who has impressed in a wide range of film and TV projects since her debut in 2005’s Love + Hate) hits a career high as new mum Lucy. Together, they draw us into a contemporary reality with echoes of an archetypal classical tragedy.

Inseparable as teenagers (rumours circulated that they were “together”), twentysomethings Lynn and Lucy have remained best friends, living in houses across the street from each other in an anonymous postwar new town. While Lucy continued to party hard after leaving school, Lynn became “a stay-at-home mum”, devoted to raising her daughter, Lola (Tia Nelson). An early shot of the old friends walking together speaks volumes about the different paths their lives have taken – Lynn in a dowdy cardigan, anxiously shouldering the weight of the world; blue-haired Lucy with a silver Puffa jacket, still clinging to a former life.

The arrival of Lucy’s son, Harrison, seems to put the pair back in sync, albeit under stress. “No one said it would be easy,” Lynn reassures her soulmate when Lucy asks if she ever wondered about being able to love her child. When baby Harrison is ambulanced away, Lucy’s young partner, Clark (Samson Cox-Vinell), is arrested on suspicion of having shaken his son to stop him crying. “He’s a monster,” says Lynn, recalling Clark’s “really sick sense of humour” and enthusiasm for “messed up video games and horror movies”. But as local suspicion shifts to Lucy, Lynn finds her loyalties divided. Having long lived in Lucy’s shadow, she is suddenly the centre of attention, her insider knowledge offering an entree to a new group of “friends”. Spurred on by Lola’s claims that Lucy was “mean” to Harrison, Lynn starts to fall in line with this new neighbourhood narrative.

Boulifa, whose numerous short film accolades include a Bafta nomination for 2012’s The Curse, took inspiration for Lynn + Lucy from a news story about a young mother who was harassed by her community following the loss of her child. There’s more than a whiff of the witch-hunt at the hairdressers where Lynn has found menial work, and where Lucy endures something akin to the ancient ritual of being tarred and feathered. That Lucy should suffer this indignity willingly, and at the hands of Lynn (who now stands with the pair’s old school rivals), makes it all the more unbearable, a quality heightened by an awful silence, broken only by the slicing of scissors.

Alan Clarke and Rainer Werner Fassbinder are cited by Boulifa as tonal touchstones for his own blend of social realism and psychological drama, conjuring a universal tale from a very specific situation. At times, it feels like we’re watching an epic parable playing out in confined conditions, with Boulifa using a boxy 4x3 frame to trap his players in a pressure-cooker environment in which working-class characters are turned against each other. Yet cinematographer Taina Galis (who shares editing credits) reminds us that the academy ratio is also the perfect format for intimate character portraits, focusing our attention on the landscape of the actors’ faces, wherein so much of this story plays out.

Strong supporting performances complete the picture, with particular plaudits due to Jennifer Lee Moon as former adversary Janelle, flashing barely concealed contempt for the classmates on whom the tables are now turned. But it’s the street-cast Scrimshaw who is the film’s extraordinary wild card. Expect to see much more of her.

• Lynn + Lucy is on BFI Player and other digital platforms