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  • Nate Adams

Review: Steve McQueen's 'Lovers Rock' takes viewer on exhilarating journey

Courtesy of Prime Video


Continuing Steve McQueen’s ambitious “Small Axe” anthology series, “Lovers Rock” is an exhilarating, free flowing musical rapture for the soul. Co written by McQueen with musician Couritta Newland, and expertly shot by cinematographer Shabier Kirchner, this 70-minute trek captures a moment in time where forgetting about the world never felt so suave.

Set over the course of one fateful evening, “Lovers Rock” is a real-time experience where two strangers meet in Ladbroke Grove, west London, at a house party in 1980. Populated with a variety of ages and generations, the place is booming. People are lining up in the streets, throwing quarters at the bouncer, paying extra for drinks, and hanging out on rugged sofas moved from inside to the backyard. The guests are literally dancing the night away, occasionally stopping to wipe the moisture from their face and get an approval nod from the DJ.

There’s plenty of sexual tension that erupts as the night moves forward, mixed in with family drama, and borderline violent standoffs, which explodes into a musical crescendo where Janet Kay’s 1979 hit “Silly Games” takes the viewer on an out of body experience. McQueen and Newland hint at the forthcoming economic and social unrest: a brush with racism and sexual assault manifest in “Lovers Rock” but never enough to detract from the carefree nature of the evening and its surroundings. This is a celebration of the Black experience and a look into their culture in a way McQueen only knows how to illustrate. His compositions are not only marvelous in their execution but put the viewer in full, unflinching immersion.

While the majority of “Lovers Rock” is dominated by a continuous party sequence where McQueen ponders a steady stream of musical lore and how it moves people, there’s a romance brewing in the background. Amarah-Jae St Aubyn makes a stunning acting debut as Martha, a rebellious teenager who snuck out to be at the party with friend Patty (Shaniqua Okwok). Though she fends off several eligible suitors throughout the evening, it’s Franklyn (Michael Ward – terrific) who catches her attention.

Both actors say more with their physicality than dialogue could muster, and McQueen’s ace choreography allow for plenty of intimate sequences as they stay sequestered in the front room where an ear shattering sound system blasts everything from soul, reggae and Carl Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting.” And once the dust settles, our lovers take a calming bike ride in the early daylight hours, having emerged from another dimension, where the fractured world around them starts to gain focus. Who knows where they’re going, but what a ride to be on. 

Grade: A- 

LOVERS ROCK streams on Amazon Prime Video Friday, November 27th. 


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