What a momentous thing to watch the world crumble before your eyes and make the decision to still try to love it, to raise it again. It’s the driving force of Mahalia Belo’s moving feature debut The End We Start From, a dystopian portrait of a new world and a mother that understands disaster and hope as intimate bedfellows.
Jodie Comer anchors the film as an unnamed woman whose waters break as those of London do too – she’s about to give birth as catastrophic storms flood the city, forcing her new family to find a new life. Belio, alongside screenwriter Alice Birch, adapts Megan Hunter’s 2017 novel of the same name with open-hearted courage, despite occasionally heavy-handed metaphors.
The film treads familiar path in its protagonist’s steely resolve to find salvation in a post-apocalyptic world, but there is still a delicacy and unpretentiousness to Comer’s take: nobody has a handbook for motherhood, least of all the women thrust into sudden tragedy (the end of the world, yes, but what about when your partner just decides this actually isn’t the life they want anymore?) forced to reckon with so much more than the already enormous responsibility of protecting another human being; a life.
That delicate performance gives vulnerability and empathy to the film – in great part aided too by Katherine Waterston’s warm turn as a fellow new mother and friend to Comer, doing her best to accept the circumstances and find light in it all, against all odds: in Dirty Dancing singalongs in the middle of nowhere; in full-body celebrations that your baby has finally drifted to sleep.
It is, maybe unsurprisingly, the men who weigh the film down – Joel Fry handles new parenthood like a bit of a wimp, while Mark Strong’s gruff anger and grief strike as one-note compared to the piercing emotion in many of Comer’s scenes, layered with complexity as the film twists and turns.
The End We Start From explores more than motherhood at the end of the world, its subject is every nuance of womanhood at any stage of life. The film takes great care to convey just how wild and new that enormous new stage in life is, how deeply tied to who you were before, and always will be. It’s heartening that neither of the seismic changes that occur in this story is what makes or breaks its people: the journey gets harder, but you just keep walking through. Eventually, the rain will always stop.
In cinemas from Friday
101 mins, cert 15