Written by: Steve McQueen & Courttia Newland
Starring: Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Michael Ward, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Shaniqua Okwok, Ellis George
When the world around you presents nothing but danger, safe havens allow for the hair to be let down and enjoy life in a way they can nowhere else. The house party highlighted in Lovers Rock displays the level of euphoria these safe havens can provide in such a glistening and sensuous style. While light on the plot, everything else in the story makes for a majestic experience of human relation and connection.
In a London home, individuals begin to set up for a party with plenty of great food and music to keep people entertained. Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and Patty (Shaniqua Okwok) prepare to have the time of their lives at this highly anticipated gathering. At the party, they have differing luck in enjoyment as Martha immediately connects and spends a wondrous night with Franklyn (Michael Ward).
At the center of Lovers Rock, a romance begins to blossom between Martha and Franklyn, which becomes the duo to attach us to the plot. While their loveliness emanates whenever the camera focuses on them, this film seeks to become an experience more than anything else. Released in a year where people were encouraged to stay apart for their own health, watching Lovers Rock felt like a reminder and a promise of the power gathering with other people can provide to the human spirit. Whether they have to pay to enter the party or not, the people attending it have a wonderful time with the dynamism of the music and the purely unbridled touch felt when dancing with another person or group of people.
Everything kicks off in the house with the DJ setting up the dance floor where the magic will happen and the women in the kitchen putting together wonderful dishes for the people who will arrive soon enough. It presents the calm before the storm with the level of excitement spewing from the people as they know once everyone arrives, it will be the time of their lives. No named characters get much attention until we meet Martha and Patty as they go on their way to the venue. Dressed up to their finest, they hope the night brings plenty of fun to be shared and perhaps create some memories for the future. Then the party begins, as does all of the dancing where different men try to “shoot their shot” by trying to dance with the women, but right away the connection between Martha and Franklyn begins in such wondrous fashion. Once they hit the dance floor, nothing else matters in the way they caress each other and feel the beat of the songs.
The selection of songs not only had a tremendous quality but it reminds the audience of the time era where the story takes place and how this party proved to be a safe haven. This gets shown explicitly when Martha walks too far from the party at one point during the night and gets within the eyesight of a group of racist white men, who begin to threateningly make monkey noises towards her. Harrowing to see as she manages to safely get back to the party and finds safety once again amongst her people. Martha carries a different demeanor in this space, which the narrative establishes once again as a place where these Black folks feel like they can be themselves.
Moments on the dance floor carry a level of euphoric passion where McQueen focuses on the bodies of the partygoers. While the lovely couple the story mostly follows are on the floor, all of the other dancing duos also get moments to express their affections. Specifically, the sequence with the song “Silly Games” demonstrates pure magic on the screen in such an intoxicatingly vibrant manner with the lighting and the way the camera lingers on the couples. A carnal experience for the people there and very much the vibe McQueen wants to establish.
As part of the five-film series, Steve McQueen returns in glorious style with this feature. He does a tremendous job balancing the lack of emphasis on the plot to make this a mood piece like no other. Black British life does not receive nearly enough attention and adulation from what gets exported from the United Kingdom. With this film, he focuses on the Jamaican-British population during this era in such a beautifully engaging manner. He touches upon the culture with such incredible detail and affection. Love emanates through each frame and all of the characters.
A visual and emotional experience like no other, Lovers Rock will make you long for a time where you can be in a sweaty room dancing your heart out. Even with the emphasis lying on the dance floor, the film still has plenty of time for the beautiful couple in the center where not much is discussed but plenty gets communicated by the way they speak and touch each other. Lovely in every way.