Word of Colour

If Beale Street Could Talk

Director: Barry Jenkins

Screenwriter: Barry Jenkins

Based on the book by: James Baldwin

UK Distributor: Entertainment One

Review by Cherise Lopes-Baker

Barry Jenkins knows how to give us love. He knows how to soar through the incandescently intimate, meander through the tender and cut through both with elucidated pain.

Adapting James Baldwin’s beloved but lesser known novel If Beale Street Could Talk for the silver screen, Jenkins gives grand space to contained moments and, backed by Nicholas Britell’s resonating compositions, creates reverberations of the love, joy and suffering on Baldwin’s 1970s Harlem streets.

Following Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), a young black couple whose childhood friendship has turned into passionate and dedicated love, the viewer is torn between the lush landscape of the life they carefully and ardently build together and the merciless cage that systemic racial injustice has created that holds them back.

Using direct lines from Baldwin’s book, Tish narrates for the viewer the swell of love between herself and Fonny as well as the ruthless injustice of the orchestrated false rape charges brought against him. Pregnant with Fonny’s child, Tish and her family join forces with unfailing love and urgency to prove his innocence.

The long, measured cinematic gazes traded between the talented KiKi Layne and Stephan James bring the euphoric bliss and wrenching anguish between Tish and Fonny to sentimental crescendos.

Wrapped in love and outwardly expanding, the stellar Regina King and Colman Domingo as Tish’s parents, provide a natural intergenerational backdrop of love as they nurture and protect the young couple, their strength and loudness equally as intoxicating.

Immersing us in yet another evocative colour palette, Jenkins trades the cool blues and purples of Moonlight for the warm shades of gold, red and green.

In love, rage and heartbreak, Jenkins brings an emotional heat to the screen that smoulders long after it goes dark. A gem not to miss.

If Beale Street Could talk is in cinemas from Friday 8 February 2019.