01 January 1970, 01:00
Speak Like a Child (1998), the feature film debut of documentary director John Akomfrah, explores the intense friendship that evolves between three troubled teenagers growing up in an isolated children’s home on the Northumbrian coast. The desolate beauty of the coastline is captured in stunning panoramas, while strong performances by the young cast help to create a lyrical and poignant drama
Billy’s words, “Sharing each other, sharing the same thing, sharing each other,” sum up this tale of an extraordinary friendship. Apparently inspired by writer Danny Padmore’s personal experience, Speak Like A Child paints a vivid picture of an institutionalised childhood.
Akomfrah elicits impressive performances from his young actors. Together, they convey a wide emotional spectrum, from the petrified innocence of Sammy (Fraser Ayres) as he arrives at the home to the dangerous aggression of Billy (Daniel Newman), a boy who compares himself to a cold-blooded crab that feels “nowt pain.” Rachel Fielding is excellent as the adult Ruby – strong and independent yet vulnerable and trapped.
The opening sequence, in which Sammy spies on Ruby and Billy in different situations, draws the viewer into a fragile world of childhood, where danger and desire are mutually dependent and secrecy both protects and hurts.
Music is integral to the narrative, distinguishing past from present and, in the drunken-sounding, self-propelled ‘motorcar’ song hinting at the nature of their triangular relationship, and Billy’s subsequent death.
Speak Like A Child articulates the intensity of the relationships between these three diverse characters, and depicts how events, experiences and time serve to forever transform unions.