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East End Film Festival: Six Rounds – Review

“In memory of those who lost their lives between August 4-11, 2011 and those who will again lose their lives in the future – living on their feet, rather than on their knees.”

Six Rounds takes place in London, quite soon after the riots of 2011. Protests began after the London Metropolitan police killed an unarmed black man, Mark Duggan. The protest tragically morphed into unconnected violence, arson, looting and disruptive behaviour. Five men died during the riots.

It’s into this world that we meet Stally, a boxer who has left the ring, is working a responsible and boring job to play house with his ambitious partner, Mermaid. When Stally visits an old friend we discover that he is escaping a destitute past with decidedly chavvy options. He is unwillingly dragged back into the ring to repay a debt. We’ve seen that story before. What keeps this story interesting is the underplayed atmospheric London riots and touching on what it means to make choices as a young black man in London today. Full disclosure: being a white female, my experiences of London varies greatly to that of our lead character. It does not attempt to glorify or rationalise the riots. The riots provide a line in the sand for Stally to decide where he stands.

The film chronology isn’t strictly linear, however title cards flashing on screen signifying each Round of the film, creates an interesting boxing-related narrative device. Filming primarily in black white lends gravity to the unravelling of his world. Scenes filmed in colour are those that Stally shares with his white partner. A very brief discussion they share touching on class mobility teases us with the foundations of their relationship.

Camera work is smooth and thoughtful, the script is comfortably solid. and lead character development is on point. Other characters are undeveloped; however, the film wants you to think about this man and his choices. That we all have choices.

Feature-length films feel like they’re getting longer all the time. Alfred Hitchcock ruminated that a film should last no longer than a bladder can hold. At under an hour, Six Rounds goes the full round. The ambiguous ending is frustratingly great, a chance to realise that in such a small space of time writer and director Marcus Flemming has created a character that you want to see again.

In the commentary track to Selma, actor David Oyelowo mentions that it’s rare to see a black actors filmed in shadow, suggesting that white directors are hesitant to film actors of colour in the shadows and darkness, thinking that they will lose the shot. The choice to primarily film Six Rounds in black and white is brilliant. Actor, Adam J Bernard, is pleasingly shown in bold black and white. A welcome reminder that actors of colour are captured beautifully on film in all shades by skilled directors. The social commentary and stylistic choices made here have Marcus Flemming pegged as director and writer to watch.


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