Written and directed by Annette Westwood, a mother with a substance misuse issue, has to prove herself on her path to recovery, to prevent her child from being taken away from her and placed into care. Starring: Shireenah Ingram, Debra Baker, Madeleine MacMahon, Lowi Mushonga and Ellie Leah.
This Little Girl opens on a bold note and it’s a strong way to kick things off, dipping its toes immediately into the harsh side of this story before evolving into a bigger balance of emotion. It uses that initial grit to give a very quick introduction and backstory to what’s ahead and it works really well. As it then moves into a much more naturally charming and relatable tone which easily draws you in. It still has layers to add after that, bringing through an intriguing tension and foreshadowing. It’s an excellent blend of elements, giving itself a friendly and sweet edge but never trying to dull the darker potential of the plot, while it may not dive into that side of things, it uses it to accent the emotion and progression of the story.
It’s an aspect which is enhanced by Annette Westwood’s directorial style, it brings through those whispers of the dangerous consequences of misusing drugs and relapsing. Meaning that the atmosphere does a lot of that work and they don’t actually have to be overtly explored. It’s a great choice to keep a more sincere tone and avoid falling into exploitative or sensational territory. There’s also a great overall quality to the aesthetic and cinematography (by Tom Martin), it holds a satisfying clarity and colour. It’s another choice which keeps the lighter and loving side of the film strong, helping to explore Jessika’s (Shireenah Ingram) relationship with her daughter, as well as accenting the darker moments.
One of the other key elements to the success of This Little Girl is the understated nature to its performances, particularly from Shireenah Ingram. Ingram brings through a heavy amount of emotion but she never adds too much physicality or volume, it’s a subtle and highly effective mix of body language and facial cues. She presents a character who’s relatable and sympathetic, convincingly getting across Jessika’s love for her daughter and her commitment to healing so she can keep them together. Ingram is supported by a great performance from Madeleine MacMahon who instils a classic bad influence but you can also feel the intense vulnerability, envy and self-sabotage at work.
This Little Girl is a layered, emotional and charming exploration of the road to recovery. Annette Westwood’s direction captures both sides of this story excellently, its darker consequences and the sweet relationship between Jessika and her daughter. Shireenah Ingram leads the charge with a brilliantly endearing and understated performance, keenly capturing Jessika’s struggle, her commitment and her potential. It holds a familiar foundation but there’s plenty of original style to create something new and compelling.