Tina Bell (Jessica Hynes) lives in a quiet seaside town, but her life is anything but quiet – her mother is threatening to leave her father, her daughter is being bullied and she and her husband Mick (Shaun Parkes) are juggling full time jobs and three children. Determined to ditch the dysfunction and beat her inner demons, Tina puts on her fighting gloves, literally – stepping into the boxing ring to sweat out her anxieties and punch up her self-worth. But does she have what it takes to get her family off the ropes and emerge victorious?
The Bells are a working family, surviving on love, wit and hard work, with little or no support from anyone else, least of all Tina’s dysfunctional antagonistic mother and cowed and catatonia father played brilliantly by Anita Dobson and Christopher Fairbanks.
Standout performances from rising stars, Liv Hill and Sennia Nanua, a hilarious cameo from Alice Lowe and an omnipresent and yet ephemeral contribution from Russell Brand, make THE FIGHT a beautifully crafted debut film telling the personal battles and histories of the characters in a chaotic and truthful manner whilst telling a traditional story of triumph over adversity in an original and complex way.
Premiering at the 2018 BFI London Film Festival, THE FIGHT was named one of the picks of the festival by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw.
Produced by Maggie Monteith, Noel Clarke, Jason Maza, David Wade and Jamie Adams, the fight will be screening in UK cinemas from Friday 15th March 2019.
‘Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about’
A few years ago I attended a ladies box-fit evening in an old boxing gym in Folkestone, where I live. Everything about the place had a beautiful feeling of survival against the odds – it had been an old school but half of it had gone to make room for a car park so only the top hall and adjacent social club survived. The brick walls and metal stair case that led you up to the gym were throbbing with the years of foot-fall, as I entered the hall for the first time I was struck by the brilliant red walls and the warm resilient energy of the women in the class.
We were all battling something – the flab, the fear, the system, in some cases – ourselves. I loved going and stopped when I got busy with a job, but the place and the people stayed with me and I began to create a story about a woman fighting her demons by getting into the boxing ring.
A year or so later I was lucky enough to meet Maggie Monteith, Jamie Adams, Noel Clarke, Jason Maza and David Wade who gave me a chance to direct my first feature. I pitched ‘The Fight’ to Maggie in March 2017 and in March 2018 we watched the (nearly) finished film together at a post- production house in Soho.
I play Tina Bell, the central character, a nurse and a married mother of three, who wants to learn both the physical and mental discipline of real boxing in order to deal with unresolved familial and childhood conflicts that plague her.
She finds a perfect mentor in the shape of boxing coach Viv, played by the legendary actress Cathy Tyson. The first actor to be signed up to the project – I remember the feeling of excitement when Noel Clarke told me that Cathy wanted to do it, I felt that this micro-budget film, with a shoot of only twelve days filmed in my little sea-side town was actually going to happen.
Cathy wanted to start training straight away so we organised sessions with a boxing coach for her, and gifted her a set of leather mitts and in a few short weeks she had mastered the moves and mannerisms of a ex-champ.
Tina is married to Mick played by Sean Parkes, a brilliant actor with natural comic nuance and skill – he responded really positively to the script and he and I were very comfortable creating the rapport of a old married couple as Sean and I have known each other for nearly thirty years. They have three beautiful children, Emma, played by rising star Sennia Nanua, Hannah, played by Freda Hynes and Jason, played by Felix Marcus.
The Bells are a working family, surviving on love, wit and hard work, with little or no support from anyone else, least of all Tina’s dysfunctional antagonistic mother and cowed and catatonic father played brilliantly by Anita Dobson and Christopher Fairbanks.
Tina and Mick Bell discover their eldest daughter Emma is being bullied at school by Jordan Chadwick, played by Liv Hill but when Jordan’s mother turns out to be Amanda Chadwick, her old school nemesis played by Rhona Mitra, Tina finds herself having to face some hard truths from her past and she turns to boxing to cope with the anger and shame that she has been suppressing for years. After Tina’s parents sudden, violent, split precipitates her father Frank, moving in with her and the family, the boxing becomes a way of focusing her body, mind and soul on the real battle – the time has come to truly defeat her demons.
‘The Fight’ is not a boxing film in any traditional sense, although I very much enjoy that trope and have been inspired by the many boxing films I have seen over the years, I wanted to make one about someone like me – A middle aged woman with children trying to keep things together. It’s a family drama with warmth, humour – a hilarious cameo from Alice Lowe and an omnipresent and yet ephemeral contribution from Russell Brand – that has an amateur boxing theme.
Everyone in the film is fighting some kind of personal battle, the histories and connections of the characters are woven as chaotically and truthfully as possible in an attempt to try and tell a traditional story of triumph over adversity in an original and complex way. The oldest cast member was Pam, who was an actual resident in Tina’s nursing home. At 94 ’The Fight’ was her movie debut, when we arrived to shoot she threw her arms open to our crew and declared ‘Its raining men!’
During pre-production and filming I was constantly struck by the generosity and spirit of everyone I encountered. I visited Pelham care home many times before we filmed there in order that when we finally did we could get as much material as we could and cause as little disruption as possible. Folkestone Academy invited me to do a workshop there and all the school children in the film apart from Liv Hill and Sennia Nanua are from the academy. In every sense this is a local film, inspired by the town and to a great extent made possible by the generosity and enthusiasm of its people.
When Ryan Eddlestone my D.O.P and I did our first recce to discuss how we could make it as beautiful and cinematic as we could we talked about Satyajit Ray, Hal Ashby, Wes Anderson amongst many others. Our incredible design team painted walls in the Bells house to warm it up and give Mick the orange halo he needed and I asked Ryan whenever time permitted to grab POV’s of our protagonists to give myself a way of letting the audience into their heads in the edit and these shots have become some of my favourite from the film. I laughingly referred to a scene set in a little park stream as my Kurosawa moment, but Ryan took that note seriously and sincerely and ran with it – working with a really artistic supportive D.O.P and his team made my job extremely easy.
Ultimately films like this only succeed when miracles happen everyday and luckily I had an incredible hardworking team who made them happen. It was a transfiguring experience that I am very lucky to have had and one, which I cannot wait to repeat.
– Jessica Hynes –