Blu-ray & Digital: Babymother (1998)
The one and only full feature directed by Julian Henriques (who is now a Doctor and lecturer in media in London), Babymother tells the story of Anita (Anjela Lauren Smith) and the club reggae scene in late 90s London.
It’s rather difficult for me, a 50- something white woman from a small Welsh village, to review a film about a young black woman with 2 young children, an absent partner, who wants to be a singer in London, effectively. I couldn’t catch most of the dialogue, and thankfully could put on subtitles, which in truth, didn’t help much.
Anita is young, she has 2 little kids and their father Byron (Wil Johnson) is famous locally for singing. He sees himself as some sort of Adonis who wants fame more than kids and Anita.
Perhaps the most unlikeable character in the film is Anita herself. Constantly dumping her kids on anyone who’ll look after them, surly, entitled and plain annoying, she wants to sing onstage with Byron, and when he carries on without her, also nicking her song, she ends her relationship with him, determined to form her own band with her friends Sharon (Caroline Chikezie) and Yvette (Jocelyn Esien).
There are several musical ‘interludes’ which fit in really well with the story, and despite me being a consummate reggae hater, they were pretty good.
Now I was NOT looking forward to watching this, never mind reviewing it. Nothing about it appealed to me, and I couldn’t identify with any of the story.
The acting is as ropey as hell, the outfits the women wear are straight out of a drag show (did they REALLY wear outfits like that in the 90s?) and more than once I wanted to kick Anita up her arse for abandoning her kids. But good god this is entertaining! I was glued to it (albeit with the subtitles on). Even Dave watched it without looking at his phone once (I really enjoyed it…Dave).
I simply can’t put my finger on what it IS that makes his film so entertaining. I can’t even place it in the ‘so bad its good’ box.
Chock full of fantastic extras, this really is a bit of an enigma to me.
- Newly remastered in 2K by the BFI
- We the Ragamuffin (1992, 26 mins): Julian Henriques’ urban musical shot and set in Peckham
- Julian Henriques and Parminder Vir on Babymother (2021, 44 mins): the director and producer talk about the film’s genesis and production history
- Anjela Lauren Smith in conversation with Corrina Antrobus (2021, 49 mins): the actress discusses her part as Anita
- Carroll Thompson in conversation with Rōgan Graham (2021, 32 mins): the singer and songwriter discusses her role as music consultant on the film
- Archive Q&A / Babymother Gallery (2021, 28 mins): an archive Q&A with Julian Henriques and Parminder Vir, recorded at the BFI’s National Film Theatre on 9th September 1998. Plays over a selection of stills and production documents.
- We the Ragamuffin Gallery
- **FIRST PRESSING ONLY** Booklet featuring writing on the film by Stuart Hall and producer Parminder Vir and original press material for both We the Ragamuffin and Babymother
Babymother is released 26th July 2021.
Review by Tina from a disc kindly supplied by the BFI.