★★★☆☆

To many people, Essex is home to the famous – or infamous – players of the reality TV show The Only Way Is Essex. After ten years on the air, it has created a lasting impression of the English county as a place of glitz and scandalous drama.

Taking a more genuine observation on the county’s class system away from fake tan and glitter is Fyzal Boulifa’s feature debut Lynn + Lucy. The award-winning British director uses the kitchen sink drama as a canvas to underline the fragility at stake in local communities, female friendship in the modern age, and the enclosing walls of domesticity.

Opening with a pivotal moment in both character’s lives, the christening of Lucy’s (Nichola Burley) baby should be a celebratory occasion for all. However, it is seemingly a more joyous event for her best friend Lynn (Roxanne Scrimshaw) is finally becoming a godmother. The contrasting state of emotions between the two women is foregrounded by the monochrome title cards that cut to black between fleeting moments of the ceremony. Lynn’s face is a bundle of joy in her speech, juxtaposed to a rather solemn-looking Lucy. The unity to which has bonded them over years and years of friendship in girlhood has developed into one of motherhood.

Upon returning home with her new partner, Lucy struggles to adapt to life at home with the demands of an infant. To make the situation worse, her partner holds an obsession with horror video games that causes conflict between the couple. The young man uses these forms of media as an escape from the frustrations of everyday life and his loss of youth. Further tensions arise when both Lynn and Lucy decide to go out for the night on to town. There is a controlling element to her partner that’s almost a tangible but an understated element of the script. Such energy comes home to roost later in the home to devastating consequences.

Out on the town, the two women enjoy each other’s company until they meet an old classmate who recalls a piece of gossip that went around their school, suggesting the two were seen as lesbians for their closeness. It is within this scene that Scrimshaw and Burley exhibit their acting as more than capable of toying with male notions of female friendship. An intrinsic ability to riff off each other’s words is found in this scene and forges their friendship in genuine love. It strangely holds some similarities to Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha in the actors’ inherent ability to convey a certain form of affectionate love in just a glance to one another.

Nonetheless, both women wrestle with a great deal of tragedy in their life decisions. Conscious or unconscious choices have been forged to create a home, have children, and settle down. For Lynn, this came much early when she was 16. Yet for Lucy, it’s evident she longs for her youth and the joy to which comes with a lack of responsibilities. Even in moments of regression between both women, they are equally shown in humanistic lights, regardless of their class and hardships.

As the narrative progresses, Boulifa’s script pushes his characters to the limits of their friendship and respect for one another. Accompanied by a tight 1.66:1 aspect ratio, the faces of these women take centre stage. Shoot with a photorealistic eye for detail, it is hard not to occasionally look at this world and forget it is a film. Neorealistic touches naturally flourish throughout in the local hairdressers where Lynn works. The world in this specific ratio feels somewhat cramped and suffocating.

The ultimate feeling Lynn + Lucy leaves is one of a pertinent social commentary on the devastating impact of gossip on friendship. Joining the ranks of impressive British debuts, Boulifa’s film channels strange cinematic energy to which can be found in Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar. With a slight more finish in his next feature, it’s hard not to see Boulifa becoming another widely celebrated name in British film.

Alasdair Bayman