If Beale Street Could talk is an absorbing and beautifully made film adapted from a 1974 James Baldwin novel of the same name by director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight). It is a disturbingly powerful story of social justice gone wrong.

Set in Harlem in the early 1970s childhood friends 19 year old Tish (Kiki Layne, in a brilliant film debut) and 22 year old Alonso, nicknamed Fonny (Stephan James) become lovers.

Tish lives at home with her mother Sharon (Regina King), father Joseph (Coleman Domingo) and sister Ernestine (Teyonah Parris). She works as a sales person in a store and Fonny is a sometime short order cook and part time sculptor. They are a devoted couple who plan a life together.

Fonny is falsely accused of the rape of a Puerto Rican woman, Victoria (Emily Rios). Framed for a crime he did not commit by Officer Bell (Ed Skrien), a very nasty white policeman with a personal vendetta, who claimed that he had seen him leaving the scene of the crime, he is sent to jail.

As he waits for his trial Tish finds out that she is pregnant with their baby. She tells Fonny then her close knit family, who are at first shocked and then share her delight. A meeting is called with the two families to share the news which is not well received by Fonny’s religious mother (Aunjarue Ellis).

Eventually the two families combine to raise money by any means possible for a legal defence to prove his innocence and Sharon goes to Puerto Rica to plead with a distressed and unhelpful Victoria to change her testimony.

Discouraged by trial delays and the seemingly hopelessness of the case Fonny accepts a plea bargain for the sake of a shorter sentence, and years later the families look forward to his eventual release.

Director, James Laxton, drew on photos of real place and time. The characters are often in close-ups looking directly at the camera. It is filmed in lush colours – which show a world of warmth and possibility. There is an evocative score by Oskar nominated Nicholas Britell.

The lover’s unbreakable bond and the chemistry between them invites the audience to share their intimacy. They are perfectly suited to one another and are supported by a cast which is uniformly excellent.

The film has been nominated for several awards at the 91st Academy Awards.

117 minutes.

Showing at Luna Leederville and Luna SX Fremantle from February 14th.

Watch the trailer…

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