Directed by: Bruce Goodison
Starring: Toby Jones, Jason Newell, Simon Meacock
The premiere screening of Bruce Goodison’s long gestating examination of the struggle faced by young asylum seekers living in the UK opened with an introduction by co-star Toby Jones, who highlighted the importance of film festivals such as London’s. The actor pointed out that in such a commercially driven industry, films such as Leave To Remain, which touch on key situations within our own society, are more often than not lost amongst the vast cosmos of weekly big-budget releases. However, given the packed screening at The Rich Mix near Shoreditch High Street, there is strong debate for giving such pieces of work a wider-reaching release and deservedly so. Powerful and provocative, Leave To Remain may well be one of the highlights of this year’s festival, a necessary film that dares to tackle a subject that many people, myself included, ignorantly ignore.
Starting life as a documentary before gradually developing in to a feature film, Leave To Remain explores the trails of a group of teenage asylum seekers who come to Britain hoping to find a life that’s far safer and more secure than the terrible ones they have left behind in countries such as Afghanistan & Guinea. Rooted in truth, Goodison uses his expertise as a documentary maker to create a film that explores the trials and tribulations of those trying to seek asylum in a way that always feels honest rather than sensationalist.
One of the key ways Goodison accomplishes this is through his cast, predominately made up of actors who have experienced tragedies similar to the characters in the film. Top praise must be handed to the extraordinarily young Masieh Zarrien who, as recently arrived Afghan immigrant Abdul, captures the sense of both loss and hope that comes from arriving on these shores with nothing but your name and the clothes on your back. The early scenes of a timid Abdul attempting to integrate with a group of people who share similar anxieties to him are both captivating and heartbreaking, while the scenes of him trying to share his excruciating past with a perpetually dismissive Home Office alarmingly highlights the substantial flaws in our immigration system.
It does occasionally stray too close to convention, particularly during the final act, which offers an ending that’s ineffectively upbeat. However, this is a tiny shortfall for a film that dares to tackle the immigration debate with an admirable freshness that is both affecting and memorable.