wed 21/02/2024

Jellyfish review - life on the edge in Margate | reviews, news & interviews

Jellyfish review - life on the edge in Margate

Jellyfish review - life on the edge in Margate

Powerful character work makes this British indie worth watching

Liv Hill as young carer and aspiring comic Sarah Taylor

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside – well perhaps not, if Jellyfish is anything to go by. Set in Margate, this independent feature paints a picture of a town and people that have been left behind.

Cut from the same cloth as Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, it tells the story of Sarah (Liv Hill), a young carer barely able to balance school, work and her homelife. Told with heart and nuanced performances, Jellyfish makes the most of its modest budget.

Sarah is crushed with responsibility, juggling classes with looking after her two younger siblings and a part-time job at the local arcades. Mum Karen (Sinead Matthews, pictured below) struggles with depression and alcoholism, and can’t be relied on even to leave the bed. Sarah’s only time to rest is in performing arts class, a cop-out subject she chose in the hopes of an easy ride. But her teacher (Cyril Nri) expects more, and after spotting her insulting fellow students with flair, he suggests stand-up comedy as a possible path. Frankie Boyle might not be the most obvious hero, Sarah finds inspiration in his foul language and ability to find laughter in dark places.Sinead Matthews in JellyfishThis ability is much needed, as life outside of school is only getting darker. Eviction notices are coming through the door, social services are asking questions, and Sarah is resorting to satisfying old men behind the arcade bins for some extra money. As her Mum points out: “What have you got to tell jokes about?”

A film like Jellyfish lives and dies on its lead, and Liv Hill is extraordinary as Sarah. She first came to attention in the BBC Rochdale grooming drama Three Girls, and is in similarly heavy territory here. She carries every scene with determination and a foul mouth, creaking under the pressure but never caving in. It’s a complex portrayal of a child forced to grow up too soon, distrusting of outsiders and fiercely protective over her family. Her final stand-up performance is heart-breaking, restrained masterclass. A special mention must also go to the perennially underrated Sinead Matthews, who can switch from childlike glee to terrifying outburst on a dime. Both roles could fall into cliché, but Hill and Matthews create rounded human beings, as relatable as they are flawed.

Jellyfish is the feature debut of director James Gardner, who along with writer Simon Lord creates a dark portrait of Margate. Despite references to social services and gentrification, this story is a character piece more than political. The life of a young carer is not mined for pity, with Sarah always taking agency of her family’s fate. Scenes in the family home are handled with care and realism.Liv Hill in JellyfishHowever, the film’s use of sexual assault as a narrative device is less appropriate. Sarah reluctantly uses her body for money several times, but a certain incident near the end inspires her eventual breaking point. It’s a sudden turn, and feels solely included to instigate the film’s final act. It’s a misjudged step that leaves a bitter taste, which is a shame, because the plot doesn’t need it. It’s a compelling story with wonderfully drawn characters and a world that carries weight. Save this one complaint, Jellyfish is a great British indie.

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