Based on a true-life incident that happened in 1969, where 17-year-old Olive Morris tried to prevent a Nigerian diplomat named Clement Gomwalk from being arrested and assaulted.
There really is no way of sugar coating how tough a watch this movie is. Having said that, finding the events of this film difficult to endure is precisely director Alex Kayode-Kay’s point.
While this film refuses to hold back the trauma and violence of a racist police force exercising what was, at the time, their unfettered ability to assault and abuse citizens of colour, the real strength of this film is the time it spends establishing the community and characters within it that the police come to terrorise.
The film opens not with depictions of civil unrest but with a lively and spirited exchange between the owner of a West Indian record shop and a precocious young woman who is eventually revealed to be our titular protagonist. Olive Morris (brought to life with a by turns endearing and relentlessly powerful performance by Brianna Douglas) guides us into late sixties Brixton with life and enthusiasm. A combination of Courtney Pine’s ska-esque score and Shaka Agina’s cinematography immerses us in a moment in time dominated by high fashion, legendary music, and an electric immigrant community, painted with a vibrant colour pallet.
From the off, we are shown that Olive is somewhat of a troublemaker who also wields an enigmatic personality. As she talks her way into the record shop owner allowing her to listen to a record before she buys it, we are introduced not only to her likability but also to her tenacity and refusal to take no for an answer, a trait that will come to define the remainder of the story.
Kayode-Kay does a tremendous job of carefully building tension as the inciting incident unfolds with a slow burning vicious intent. The police officers (portrayed with stunning savagery by Michael Jinks and Tom Padley) carefully and deliberately stalk their intended victim, Nigerian diplomat Clement Gomwalk (played with a dignified cool by Jonathan Nyati). The film steadily ratchets up the sense of dread and impending calamity without rushing to its explosive crescendo. This sets the scene for Olive to make a fateful decision that changes the course of her life and that of civil disobedience in the UK.
The scenes that follow underscore the true message of this film, namely that injustice cannot be defeated by silence. An interesting interplay within the police force shows a mixture of people upholding a human rights violating system and other officers who find the system abhorrent but have become used to surviving within it rather than challenging it. After the frenetic and unsettling violence that launches the story, we settle into a meditation on the merits of challenging systems and confronting state sanctioned injustice. The film is given additional weight by focusing on this debate through the lens of the female experience, underscoring that figures such as Olive Morris not only had to contend with racial discrimination but sexual discrimination, even from within her own ethnic group.
This film is brought to life with a slickness and style that jumps off the screen. There are visual cues that underscore the historical aspects of this story, sometimes via nostalgia and other times through stark and brutal visual documentation. Kayode-Kay shows his skill in applying the right style to the right moment, creating an impactful and immersive experience. Additional credit should be given to the fact that Kayode-Kay and his team applied such skill and dedication to the story of an historical figure that is all-too-often left out of the history of rights movements in the UK.
If there is anything that it would have been good to see more of, it would be dedicating more time to Olive’s rise to prominence and visual depictions of her impact on UK urban and civic evolution. This may be too much to ask on a short film budget, but at the very least this film shows that there is a compelling story to be told surrounding Olive Morris and doubtless many others like her.
The Ballad of Olive Morris is bold, ambitious, impactful and courageous in all the right ways and is highly recommended for your watchlist.
Studio: FatOedo Productions | Year: 2022 | Genre: Historical/Racial Drama | Duration: 10 Mins | Suitability: Mature
Click the button to watch this film on the online Aesthetica Short Film Festival platform until 30th November 2022.
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