- Katie Goh
- 24 June 2019
EIFF 2019: Powerful autobiographical drama from Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em,' is the boiled-down idea behind actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje's debut as writer-director. Based upon his own experiences, Farming tells the unusual, frequently horrifying story of a Nigerian boy assimilating into an Essex skinhead gang.
In the 1960s and 70s, 'farming' was the term used to describe the British phenomenon of working or studying immigrants fostering out their children to white, often working-class families. Akinnuoye-Agbaje's film opens with one such arrangement being enacted: a Nigerian couple, Femi (Akinnuoye-Agbaje himself) and Tolu (Genevieve Nnaji), hand their newborn son, Enitan, over to Jack and Ingrid Carpenter (Lee Ross and Kate Beckinsale), alongside a wad of cash.
Growing up in Enoch Powell's Britain and an all-white neighbourhood, Enitan begins to internalise the prejudice he experiences. When his birth parents finally collect him and bring him back to Nigeria, Enitan is as out of place there as he is in Tilbury. Unable to adapt to Africa, he is sent back to England where his simmering self-hatred manifests itself in disturbing ways.
This initial portion of the film is by far the most well done: Zephan Amissah's portrayal of a sweet, shy boy turning against himself is as remarkable as the process is sickening, and such moments unfold with care. Frustratingly, the rest of the film, which sees 16-year-old Enitan (played by Damson Idris) join the skinhead gang, lacks the same conviction. Hideous sequences of racist violence are plentiful but, unlike Farming's earlier scenes of its protagonist as a child, nuance loses out to punishing, showy abuse. The film's grey areas, such as the racially charged politics of a white couple raising a house of ten black children, pass without much probing.
Another frustration is the abrupt ending, which sees Enitan's redemptive arc hastily told through text and montage. But, despite its storytelling issues, excellent performances from Amissah and Idris give the film its power, and its heart.
Screened on Thu 20 and Sat 22 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019. General release from Fri 18 Oct.