Ginger & Rosa received a mixed reception on its theatrical release last year. The DVD is out this week and I must admit to being pleasantly surprised. The film covers similar moral territory to Lone Scherfig's An Education (a teenage rites of passage/older man preying on young girl) and I found it as fascinating, less glossy and rather more poignant. At the heart of Sally Potter's sensitive portrait of teenagers growing up in London, during the onset of the Cold War, are two stunning performances from Elle Fanning as Ginger and Alice Englert as Rosa
The two girls are inseparable. Their mothers gave birth to them in the same hospital, on the day the Americans bombed Hiroshima, and they've been friends ever since. Now it is 1962, a transitional time, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis - London is not yet swinging and the sexual revolution is only just beginning. There is talk of nuclear war and Ginger is convinced that this might spell the end for them all.
Rosa comes from a broken home so likes to hang out in Ginger's bohemian household. Ginger's mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) is a former artist, her father Roland (Alessandro Nivola) a pacifist, imprisoned during the war, and a writer. He's also somewhat pretentious - asking Ginger not to call him 'Dad', because he thinks it sounds bourgeois - but she adores him.
When Ginger's parents' marriage falls apart the girls find themselves increasingly left to their own devices. On the cusp of adulthood, they play truant, smoke cigarettes and tentatively explore their attraction to boys. They try to look similar, share clothes and obsessions - there are two lovely moments when they iron each other's hair (literally) and sit together in the bath to shrink their jeans. But as Rosa becomes more sexually precocious, Ginger turns towards politics and writing - she wants to be a poet. When Rosa becomes entwined with Ginger's raffish father, now separated from Nat, Ginger seeks solace in poetry and is increasingly involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Ginger feels the sense of betrayal acutely and it is her attempts to come to terms with their duplicity that propels the second half of the film. Roland's lack of remorse for his actions is all the more shocking given Rosa's age and the fact he's watched them grow up and blossom together.
The decision to use American actors may well have been to ensure box office appeal on both sides of the Atlantic but it pays off. Hendricks and Nivola make suitably glamorous, if troubled, parents and Fanning's emotional range on camera is stunning. There are memorable cameos from Timothy Spall and Annette Bening as Nat's concerned friends who offer Ginger advice about growing up. There's a wonderful moment when Spall's character, Mark, asks her sadly "Can't you be a girl for a moment or two longer? You'll be a woman soon enough." Later, Ginger demonstrates her conflicted state when she moves in with Roland and takes her two teddies with her.
Potter also scripts and together with cinematographer Robbie Ryan creates a vivid sense of Britain, emerging from post-war austerity and facing another world crisis. I love the attention to period detail - the accents, clothes, hair, the poetry Ginger reads (TS Eliot), Roland's love of jazz and his boho, somewhat dingy, London flat. This is a moving coming of age tale where you feel both the mother and daughter's pain.