The feature debut of playwright debbie tucker green, Second Coming (2014) opens with a shot of a murmuration of starlings. Their symbolic meaning – and particularly their endlessly beguiling flight – is often interpreted as purporting to familial relationships and improved communication. Both are vital elements of this terrific British drama that places God in the kitchen sink. Ostensibly a high-concept premise, what transpires is a scintillating psychological drama that explores the effect of an unexpected and unannounced pregnancy on an Afro-Caribbean family in London. The immaculate nature of the conception just adds further tension.
Jax (Nadine Marshall) hasn’t let her husband Mark (Idris Elba) touch her “for ages”. This early revelation not only seems at odds with the film’s incredible tactility, but also the wet-eyed hospital appointment that Jax has just returned from, which is followed by an on-screen title saying simply ‘week eight’. The couple have a son already, JJ (played with gentle vim by Kai Francis Lewis) and it transpires that he is the miracle amidst a number of difficult failed pregnancies. It creates a curious three-hander that sits the audience right down at the dinner table as Jax’s consternation grows as she approaches the twelve week cut-off for a termination. Urszula Pontikos’ photography is filled with close-ups and dirty frames in which the action is viewed over a shoulder, through a metal railing or even just across the kitchen.
The camerawork captures a sense of familiarity and proximity that envelopes the viewer in the atmosphere of the piece – there appears to be no fourth wall. As such, insights into Jax’s thoughts can for the most part only be gleaned in observation, much the same way as Mark or JJ must reach for the same. The only additional experience shared with the viewer is a recurring vision in which Jax endures a building torrent of rain in the bathroom. This represents God giving life, of course, but whether the vision is coming from on high or within remains a mystery. In fact, the genesis of the pregnancy is largely ignored once the initial set-up is done. Instead, tucker green’s concentration is largely on the relationships that Jax has with her immediate family. Marshall brings a terrific grace and gravity to a role that could be thankless given its ostensibly oblique nature. Elba meanwhile provides a perfect counterpoint, broody, physical, loving and tender. Naturally they clash over the scenario, but tucker green has a made a film far more subtle and astute than overtly theatrical. An underlying tension persists, but Second Coming has much more to offer from quiet drama to moments of grace, not least in the stunning quality of light and engrossing performances.
Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson