The Fight (2019) was the closing night film of the first ever Hebden Bridge Festival at the Hebden Bridge Picture House and its director, writer and star, Jessica Hynes was interviewed by the festival director Louise Wadley following the screening.
Like many, the prospect of a Jessica Hynes project fills me with glee. From Spaced to the increasingly prescient Up the Women, Hynes has cultivated a career of much-loved performances and creations that have embedded her in a core comedy clan that has dominated the most popular British telly. Hynes’ journey from The Royale Family to Twenty Twelve/W1A and now The Fight is is supremely satisfying to behold.
Her first film, The Fight, easy to market as ‘the female Rocky’, is so much more than that. Shot in 12 days in Folkestone, The Fight is essentially a tense and occasionally funny family drama about the cycles of behaviour that can haunt through the generations. It’s central figure Tina (played by Hynes, who utterly embodies the ordinary and the extraordinary of this busy wife, mother and care worker) is awakened to the world of boxing after an energetic but unfulfilling BoxFit class.
What seems to be another way to release the tensions of everyday life, turns into a fight for a woman’s emancipation from the toxicity of her upbringing and the distress of finding a way forward when her eldest child is bullied at school. The scenes of her daughter Emma (The Girl With All the Gift’s Sennia Nanua) being targeted at school by Jordan (Liv Hill) are a difficult watch, and work as potential mirrored scenes of Tina’s own troubled childhood. A special mention for the cameo by Alice Lowe in one short but laugh-inducing instance at a home-schooling support group, too.
Tina is funny, kind, sometimes timid, good at her job and active. Scenes of Hynes running the cobbled coastal streets of Folkestone, listening to self-help meditations and doggedly jogging up a flight of steps are interspersed in the drama – her sometimes fruitless attempt to remain in equilibrium as her personal world begins to slowly implode…even more so when something from Tina’s past that might compromise the viewer’s instant identification is revealed.
Tina’s parents, ably depicted in close-up by Christopher Fairbanks and Anita Dobson (who, incredibly, only had two days on set to do her scenes) go some way to explain the deep divisions in the extended family. Emotional manipulation and miscommunication impede the grandfather’s (Fairbanks) attempts to reconnect with his daughter’s family, and bind the grandmother (Dobson) in a tangle of cruelty and hysterics. Dobson is particularly menacing and sorrowful. Terse phonecalls with Tina are inevitably cut short to guard against saying any more either of them might regret.
The boxing itself then, fades a little into the background, acting more of a powerful recurring motif to the dramas that runs rings around Tina and her family. In her Q&A after the screening at Hebden Bridge Picture House, Hynes also expressed a desire to show a “good dad” on screen. Shaun Parkes’ excellent depiction of Mick, Tina’s long-suffering but kind husband, stifled by life’s commitments but proud of his lot in life, especially his loving, if amusingly chaotic, family. A scene where he stands up to a work colleague is nicely underplayed, indicating how Mick’s everyday battles are just as consuming, even if they do not play out in the boxing ring. The dialogue between Mick and Tina is humanely realised too, surely an iteration of conversations that occur between two people who know each other so well that it’s hard to even be heard any more.
Anyone going into this expecting a sports movie from an ordinary woman’s perspective might be disappointed (though Hynes does manage to include a short montage of Tina’s enthusiastic training), but as a window into the hard slog of family life and the scars we carry, its an unflinching one-two punch on the jaw.