‘A very small, very polite, very British apocalypse’

The End We Start From is a film about the UK struggling to cope in the aftermath of a huge storm that sees London and southern England plunged underwater, disrupting food and other vital supplies to the entire country. But it’s really a film about motherhood and resilience, about love and death, about life persevering.

Jodie Comer stars as Mother, a woman who goes into labour as the storm waters invade her London home. She and her husband R (Joel Fry) decamp to his parents’ house, but tragedy separates them. After meeting and immediately befriending fellow new mother O (Katherine Waterson), the women travel the country looking for food and shelter, before each woman has to decide the best course of option for post-disaster life: creating something new, or trying to return to the old.

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Mahalia Belo’s film (with a script from Alice Birch, adapted from Megan Hunter’s novel of the same name) has been described as apocalyptic, but it isn’t, really, or at least it’s a very small, very polite, very British apocalypse. 

Connection

It doesn’t even rain much beyond the opening scenes, which goes to show how hopelessly vulnerable we are as a country to even short-term weather events. 

The UK is nowhere near self-sufficient and relies on foreign imports for nearly half our food. The UK’s food supply chain operates on a complex ‘just in time’ system which is vulnerable to even minor disruption or change in consumer behaviour.

Anyone who has ever witnessed panic buying in the supermarket, anyone who tried to buy toilet paper or pasta during lockdown, can recognise the frenzy as Comer is caught in the middle of a hoard of people swarming a food truck. It’s terrifyingly believable, as is Comer’s extraordinary performance as a woman struggling to cope with her whole world being upended.

For the first half of the film she is abandoned and powerless, waiting for others to return and rescue her. The second half becomes increasingly less realism-based and more abstract as she sets out on a journey of self-actualisation and independence. Her growing strength is rooted entirely in her motherhood. Both Mother and O are rarely seen not clutching their babies to their breasts, their fierce pride at what they’ve made palpable. 

The film embraces these tiny moments of connection. Comer and Waterson sing hits from Dirty Dancing as they hike. They get drunk and dance with a stranger (Benedict Cumberbatch, in a tantalisingly brief cameo as a kind but damaged man). They hold each others’ babies, knowing that sometimes you just need a minute alone to remember who you were before you were Mother. 

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