The Last Tree
- Nikki Baughan
- 23 September 2019
Sam Adewunmi is outstanding in British director Shola Amoo's sensitive take on race and identity
Three years after he explored the impact of gentrification and cultural erosion on London's black communities in his multimedia debut A Moving Image, writer-director Shola Amoo returns to further explore themes of racial identity, and the power of external forces to change lives. More cohesive and intimate than its predecessor, and with a far stronger voice, the semi-autobiographical The Last Tree is driven by a commanding central performance from Sam Adewunmi.
He is Femi (played by Tai Golding as a youngster), a British boy of Nigerian descent who, after enjoying an idyllic rural childhood in Lincolnshire with foster mother Mary (Denise Black), finds himself thrust into the tower blocks of London after his mother Yinka (a moving performance from Gbemisola Ikumelo) returns to claim him. His resulting anger endures until the age of 16, when he finds himself falling in with a local gang who seem, finally, to offer a sense of belonging.
As a young black man teetering on the edge, Adewunmi is outstanding; fuelled by rage, confusion and fear, Femi's proud demeanour barely conceals the fact that he's almost entirely overwhelmed by his feelings. He's struggling to understand his African heritage – his mother's traditions are utterly alien to him – and to live up to preconceived ideas of who and what he should be: he listens to The Cure pretending it's Tupac, he is more at home in the fields than the streets. Femi is fighting against a stereotype that, at points, threatens to consume him.
While a final reel trip to Lagos seems a rather rushed attempt to explain Yinka's backstory, and a subplot involving a compassionate teacher is somewhat cliched, Amoo presents a far more sensitive representation of the black British experience than is often seen on screen, challenging his audience to confront their own prejudices along the way.
Selected release from Fri 27 Sep.