Vague Visages’ The End We Start From review contains minor spoilers. Mahalia Belo’s 2023 movie features Jodie Comer, Joel Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.
Director Mahalia Belo ambitiously seizes on Megan Hunter’s 2017 novel The End We Start From as the epic foundation for her cinematic debut. Jodie Comer plays Mother, a woman happily on the brink of parenthood alongside her partner, R (Joel Fry). The delicious pitter-patter of the English rain initially surrounds the heavily pregnant protagonist as she sits at her dining room table, sucking mango from the skin. Gradually, the water rises, carrying away any reliable dynamics in its unstoppable flow. Throwing viewers into the intensity of such an event works to expose the delicate fault line between comfort and panic, and the stress Belo immediately provokes is proof of the thin veneer of normalcy, concealing something chaotic and immutable that’s perpetually thriving beneath.
The rest of The End We Start From struggles to live up to the effectiveness of the opening sequence, but there is much to be gleaned from this kind of anticlimactic construction that’s concerned with the practicality of surviving an apocalypse. Soon, London is almost entirely submerged — a city reeling beneath a layer of dirt and grease — but the film commits to a singular focus, narrowing in on Mother’s family. When there are occasional, nationwide interludes via TV news segments, they feel markedly forced, derivative in their computer-generated composition, reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic trend of the early 2010s. Luckily, The End We Start From is mostly confined to simple sets.
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Scattered across this journey is a collection of distinct characters, with each one pining in a map of grief, forcing Mother to contort herself around the hurt that criss-crosses haphazardly. When Katherine Waterston’s thoughtful O crosses the protagonist’s path, the film’s unrelenting tone is alleviated, as she lends the story a kind of enlightening ease as the two discover ways of thriving amidst tragedy. These actresses share a lovely chemistry, welded together by a similar fierceness as they clutch their newborns and march through the muddied English hills. The rest of the supporting cast ranges from distractingly famous to fully embodied. This succession of beloved British actors decorates the plot, refining Mother’s will to live as they direct her back to a weather-beaten London.
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Late in The End We Start From, the protagonists encounter one such character played by a gruffly designed Benedict Cumberbatch. He is on a kind of pseudo-pilgrimage from the safety of a commune to the city he had once fled. Such a journey is explained as a chance to remember life before it was cruelly engulfed — “It’ll be sharper there,” the man tearfully muses. Belo always pursues this kind of clarity, constructed as a clear-eyed political commentary. The End We Start From falls short of being a meaningful observation on the perils of climate injustice, but the film succeeds as an embodiment of maternal commitment, largely due to Comer’s wonderfully present performance. Belo’s willingness to tackle such a winding tale, epic in its scale, is inspiring and indicative of a fearless creative ready to wrangle grand, all-encompassing stories into deeply humane shapes.
Anna McKibbin (@annarosemary) is a freelance film critic. She received a journalism MA from City University and specializes in pop culture. Anna has written for London Film School, Film Cred and We Love Cinema.
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