London, 1962. Born on the same day in the same hospital in seventeen years earlier, Ginger (Elle Fanning) and Rosa (Alice Englert) have been best friends ever since. As teenagers, they spend most of their days together. But this is the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when many were terrified that nuclear Armageddon could come at any moment. These fears help form a political conscience in Ginger, and the two girls attend CND meetings and go on Ban the Bomb marches. But when Rosa's developing sexuality leads her into the arms of Ginger's father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), who by then is estranged from her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks), the girls' friendship is put in danger...
It takes more than two films to make a trend, but Ginger & Rosa invites comparisons with An Education, another story of a young woman's coming of age at a time (a year earlier in that film's case) before the Sixties as we know them had not really started, both films incidentally directed by women. An Education was derived from autobiography (a memoir by Lynn Barber); while Ginger & Rosa is fiction, but it's not hard to detect personal resonances for its writer-director. Sally Potter was born in 1949, so is four years younger than her title characters, but where Ginger & Rosa particularly scores is in small details. Potter did go on anti-nuclear marches at a young age and you suspect that Ginger and Rosa were not the only teenage girls to practice kissing and smoking, to play a clapping game (even if the director had to teach the actresses that one), to sit in bathtubs so that the water could shrink their jeans around their curves, or iron their hair
This is the Sixties while it was still really an extension of the 50s, a year before the Beatles and the Rolling Stones released their first LPs and, as Philip Larkin put it, sexual intercourse began. Women's roles were much more circumscribed: the birth of the 60s women's movement was half a decade away and Doris Lessing had not yet published The Golden Notebook. Ginger & Rosa is set in a more left-wing and arty (wait until you hear what Ginger's real given name is, and the reasons for it) milieu than other parts of 1962 London, one where a gay couple (played by Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt) can not only be open to their friends but actively welcomed and be Ginger's “godfathers”. Roland , in particular, sees himself as a free- and forward-thinker, but he's a distinctly flawed one, held back by his ego and the kind of unconscious sexism and predatory sexuality that was the blind spot of many 60s male libertarians.
Sally Potter has had a long career, beginning in experimental film, making her feature debut after some shorts with The Gold Diggers in 1981. Some of Potter's films are more accessible than others: I found both The Gold Diggers and Yes, with its dialogue in black verse, far less congenial than I did her adaptation of Virginia Woolf's novel Orlando, though I did like The Tango Lesson more than most. Ginger & Rosa is by some way Potter's most conventionally made film: there are no addresses to camera (though Ginger does get occasional voiceover) or any of the alienation devices of Potter's other work. It is primarily a character study, and an evocation of a time and place, with Rosa's affair with Roland being the plot motor which brings about a crisis in the final stages. The acting is strong across the board, though Jodhi May (as Rosa's mother) falls victim to an underwritten role. Given the very specific time and place, she's commendably open-minded about casting, with Ginger and her parents played by Americans and Rosa by a New Zealander (Jane Campion's daughter). Annette Bening and Oliver Platt are Americans playing Americans. Given that, there are few accent slips, though Elle Fanning's is a little too cutglass at times. But when you consider the maturity of her performance – she was actually thirteen when the film was shot – that's a minor drawback. (By way of comparison, her older sister Dakota also recently played English in Now is Good. Despite the title (changed from the working title Bomb) this isn't an even-handed film: Ginger is the protagonist and it's her growth and emotions we are invited to share and Fanning conveys them extremely well.
Ginger & Rosa is released by Artificial Eye in both Blu-ray (Region B) and DVD (Region 2) editions. This is a review of the Blu-ray and affiliate links refer to that edition. For those for the DVD, go here. Please note that the DVD loses a couple of extras which are on the Blu-ray, namely the crew interviews, the making-of documentary and the deleted scenes. The Blu-ray begins with a commercial for Curzon on Demand.
The Blu-ray is transferred in the correct ratio of 2.40:1. Ginger & Rosa is Sally Potter's first film in Scope: it was digitally-captured on the Arri Alexa and given a 2K digital intermediate. Potter and her DP Robbie Ryan shot much of the film handheld, and they go for a deliberately desaturated colour scheme, which makes Ginger's red hair particularly stand out. I saw this film in a cinema on release in a 2K DCP projection and this Blu-ray looks just like what I saw then, as indeed such a new film should do.
There are two soundtrack options: DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 (Surround). Either way, the soundtrack is very much front and centre, with little use of the surrounds. Even the music on the soundtrack tends to be monophonic, as most popular recordings were at the time. The subwoofer does help to fill in the basslines of those songs, and gets a definite workout at the very start of the film, with the archive footage of a nuclear test explosion. Unfortunately there are no subtitles for the hard-of-hearing available for this English-language film, which is regrettable.
The extras begin with a commentary by Sally Potter, somewhat low-key and scene-specific, but not without some interesting anecdotes. If you hadn't guessed already, Ginger & Rosa is a very personal work for her, and she finishes by dedicating it to her mother, who died before the film was completed.
Next up are cast interviews (37:37), namely with Elle Fanning, Christina Hendricks, Alessandro Nivola, Alice Englert, Annette Bening, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt, the last two interviewed together. Along with the interview with Sally Potter (35:20), these follow the standard EPK format of an on-screen text caption followed by the interviewee answering to camera. The extended time given to Potter allows her to discuss the film in a bit more depth than is usual for these interviews, but a demerit to the caption writer who refers at one point to the “guiding principal”.
The crew interviews are actually a featurette called “Anatomy of a Film” (55:03). This describes the stages of the film's making from scriptwriting and preproduction to completion, over two years and includes interviews with many members of the film's crew, including personnel never normally heard of in extras, such as the unit publicist. The interview footage is in a small box to the left, with relevant documents on display in the centre and to the right, or with scenes from the film playing to the right. Each interviewee describes his or her job (summarised as text below) and how that related to this particular feature. For any aspirant filmmakers out there, this will be invaluable as an indepth look at how this kind of film is made – not a major-studio production and not on a huge budget but still professionally made and funded.
The making-of documentary (30:30) is a little out of the ordinary. It's directed by Joseph Matthews, who narrates. He begins by ruefully describing how most of the crew don't want him around, though the writer-director didn't seem to mind. Matthews also talks to crewmembers old enough to remember the period when the film is set. What is also clear is the strong rapport between Potter and Fanning, and how impressively mature and levelheaded Fanning is
Deleted scenes (5:09) follow, or rather one deleted scene (timecoded) introduced by the relevant section of Potter's interview elsewhere on the disc. This is more of Ginger and Rosa in a part of London still devastated by WW2 bombing, and you can see why it was removed as it doesn't add a lot.
Finally, there is the theatrical trailer (1:50).