The Last Tree: compelling and moving coming-of-age drama

Review: Shola Amoo’s dramatic triptych has parallels with Barry Jenkins’s Moonlight

Sam Adewunmi as a teenage Femi in The Last Tree

Film Title: The Last Tree

Director: Shola Amoo

Starring: Tai Golding, Sam Adewunmi, Nicholas Pinnock, Denise Black, Jammal Ibrahim, Rasaq Kukoyi, Ruthxjiah Bellenea, Rasaq Kukoyi, Jayden Jean-Paul-Denis

Genre: Documentary

Running Time: 99 min

Fri, Oct 4, 2019, 05:00

   

Almost every critic has called Shola Amoo’s semi-autobiographical second feature as the British Moonlight and thematically and structurally there are unmistakable (and very welcome) parallels with Barry Jenkins’s Oscar-winning drama.

A compelling coming-of-age chronicle, The Last Tree opens as 11-year-old Femi (Tai Golding), a British boy of Nigerian heritage, leaves behind his idyllic rural foster home and loving caretaker Mary (Denise Black) to join his mother Yinka (Gbemisola Ikumelo) in a south London high-rise. Yinka offers tougher love – and occasionally beatings – than Femi is accustomed to. His life at school, where lighter skinned boys tease him about his name and pigmentation, is grim.

By the time he is a teenager, Femi (Sam Adewunmi) is an angry young man who has fallen in with a bad crowd and who turns up to school stinking of weed. That he listens to The Cure on his headphones while telling his friends Dean (Rasaq Kukoyi) and Tayo (Jayden Jean-Paul-Denis) that he’s listening to Tupac suggests there’s something more to him than Thug Life. There are some wonderful moments.

An intervention from an understanding school teacher Mr Williams (Nicholas Pinnock) proves almost as moving as the moment when he realises that Tope (Ruthxjiah Bellenea), the girl he likes, is secretly listening to The Cure too. A final section, in which Femi and Yinka visit Nigeria is a riot of colours and streetlife.

Stil Williams’s crystalline cinematography finds light and reflection even in unlovely tower block hallways. Segun Akinola’s hypnotic score keeps time with writer-director Shola Amoo’s occasional impressionistic flourishes. Tai Golding and Sam Adewunmi’s powerful performances are perfectly aligned in this remarkable dramatic triptych.