The colours in If Beale Street Could Talk are so vivid
The colours in If Beale Street Could Talk are so vivid

MOVIE REVIEW: Exquisite movie to watch this weekend

YOU don't just watch If Beale Street Could Talk - you feel it.

You're probably rolling your eyes right now but there are movies that are such visceral emotional experiences that you feel it. If Beale Street Could Talk is one of them.

It's a stunning and sensuous film, gorgeously crafted and performed - the story of young lovers in an unjust world. It'll make your heart flutter and ache.

The follow-up from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, who adapted the story from a James Baldwin novel, the film stars relative newcomers KiKi Layne and Stephan James (Homecoming) alongside more experienced hands such as Regina King, Colman Domingo and Brian Tyree Henry.

Layne and James play Tish and Fonny, two African-American youngsters in 1970s Harlem. Their bond is clear from moment you meet them in the opening scenes, the two, hand-in-hand, all swoony eyes as they walk through a park, ensconced in their own universe.

The colours of the leaves, of his ruby red jacket and of the yellow of her coat, is so vivid while Nicholas Britell's stirring score sets the tone for a story that has a lingering sense of dreamy otherworldliness.

But Tish and Fonny's obstacles are very much of our world. Soon after, Tish visits Fonny in jail, where he languishes after being arrested for a rape that Tish and their families know he didn't do. She tells him, through a glass partition, that she's pregnant.

If Beale Street Could Talk is structured through the main story of Tish's pregnancy and the fight to prove Fonny's innocence.

Throughout are flashbacks of Tish and Fonny's relationship, from being friends as kids to the first flush of young love when they start to truly see each other.

Their tenderness and passion may have been established in those first few minutes but the flashbacks deepen that connection, as the genesis of their love story is revealed.

Also slowly uncovered are the circumstances in which Fonny finds himself behind bars, and the systemic racism and personal prejudice that not only threw him in there but keeps him there.

The game is rigged and that sting of injustice is heartbreaking.


Tender, passionate and sensual.
Tender, passionate and sensual.


Layne and James have incredible on-screen chemistry and Jenkins makes you part of their story with his lens moving through their intimate space. The characters are also prone to staring directly into the camera, as if daring you to ignore their story - you won't be able to, and you won't want to.

Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton, who also worked on Moonlight, have crafted an incredibly beautiful to look at film with its rich colour palette and dazzling lighting. Even when what's happening is the most wrenching thing, that it's presented in such a visually alluring frame fills you with hope through the bleakness.

And that seems to be If Beale Street Could Talk's soul. Because for all the hardships and challenges the characters go through - and it thoughtfully explores racism and class in its various forms - the people in this story are its beating heart.


Regina King is nominated for an Oscar for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk
Regina King is nominated for an Oscar for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk

Whether that's Tish's mum (an indelible and affecting performance from King) in the pursuit of Fonny's freedom or Fonny's friend Daniel (Henry) as he tells the story of his time in prison.

As one of the characters say, you have to "live the life you've been given".

It's not as transcendent as Moonlight - that is too high a bar to clear - and If Beale Street Could Talk is a more conventional and accessible piece of work.

As Jenkins had already proven with Moonlight, he is a deeply humanist filmmaker filled with empathy for his characters. In turn, we can't help but fall in love with his movies.

If Beale Street Could Talk is an exquisite film.

Rating: 4.5/5

If Beale Street Could Talk is in cinemas now. Share your movies and TV obsessions: @wenleima