British director Daniel Kokotajlo’s gripping, thorny debut film tackles religious fundamentalism through the lens of an all-female Jehovah’s Witness family. Living in Oldham, single mum Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran) and her two young daughters, Luisa (Sacha Parkinson) and Alex (Molly Wright), are devout, attending services and going door-to-door to spread the word. However, an act of transgression against their faith’s oppressive rules raises the stakes to dramatic levels. The church’s elders insist on total commitment or expulsion from the community.
Kokotajlo draws on his own experiences as a former Witness to bring intelligence and nuance to the story. His characters are never lambasted for their beliefs, but neither do they go unquestioned. It is a quietly brilliant work that balances the conflicts of three women, and the trio of actresses playing them give stunning performances.
The drama moves through the stark interiors of their Kingdom Hall, the family’s terraced house and drab office spaces. The stifling atmosphere echoes the community’s oppressive systems. Close-ups draw us in on moments of silent anguish with an almost voyeuristic intimacy.
For all his craft, Kokotajlo’s greatest triumph is in portraying a community of fundamentalists with such compassion, shining a light on rarely explored subject matter in a way that never feels exploitative. This is a standout British drama that pointedly asks us to question the strictures of institutionalised religion.