Simply put, there aren’t enough films like Babymother. Produced for Channel 4 in the tail end of the nineties, Julian Henriques’ London-based musical is getting a BFI Blu-Ray release out today – and it’s totally deserving of it. There aren’t many other films out there that capture the essence of this time period with such rawness, while also telling a story with such compelling characters at its heart.
The film follows Anita (Anjela Lauren Smith), the eponymous Babymother tasked with raising her children while balancing a fledgling musical career. Alongside her friends Sharon (Caroline Chikeze) and Yvette (Jocelyn Jee Esien), they form Neeta, Sweeta & Nastie – a reggae group determined to change London’s perceptions of what a girl band, and women in general, can personify.
In this respect, Babymother is a vociferously unique experience. You’ll be hard-pressed to find many other musicals set in London – let alone ones who prioritise reggae and dancehall as their main genres. The soundtrack is a genuine delight, with slow jams that create a ceaseless party atmosphere. The performance scenes do justice to the music as well, taking place in bubbly house parties or glimmering nightclubs – and the result is a powerful yearning to go back in time, and experience these places first-hand. Babymother is at its absolute best when capturing the essence of the late nineties in a brisk eighty-minute jolt. Everything from the fashion to the designs of the shop front is perfect here – and if you’ve got any emotional resonance with the time period, you’ll fall in love with the visuals.
It’s got a neat message at its heart too – one about women coming together, stepping aside from male objectification and possession, and taking charge of their dreams. Calling the film Babymother is no coincidence: Henriques and co-screenwriter Vivienne Howard take the ingenious route of taking a prettifying dehumanising phrase, which boils women down purely to their bodily function, to make it a symbol of empowerment. Despite being a TV movie, Babymother has plenty of important comments to make – on everything from the class divide in London to how female friendships need to look past the male gaze, and focus on what is important.
It’s a shame, then, that the film can’t quite stick the landing. Despite only clocking in at 82 minutes, the last twenty or so try to do too much in a short space of time. A very brief subplot about infidelity comes and goes quicker than you can say ‘babymother’, and a lingering thread about rival promoters vying for control of London’s music scene isn’t especially gripping. It’s saved by a last-minute reggae clash performance as the film’s climax, which is something you can guarantee you won’t have seen on-screen before. It’s not a perfect ending, but perfectly captures the shining light of Babymother as a whole – it’s so unique, refreshing, and nostalgic.
Babymother is out now on Blu-ray, iTunes, Amazon Prime and BFI Player Rentals.