When shooting the film Kindred—directed and co-written by Joe Marcantonio and available on demand Nov. 6—London native Tamara Lawrance found herself mostly alone in Ireland, shuttling between the cottage where she was staying and set. That isolation had resonances with her role in the film as Charlotte, a young woman who has made plans with her live-in boyfriend, Ben, to move to Australia, leaving behind his staid, upper class family and their frigid castle for a “fresh start” in the outback. Unfortunately, the escape plan does not hatch; Charlotte gets pregnant and Ben is killed in an accident. Instead of heading to Australia, the young woman is kept confined to her dead boyfriend’s mother Margaret’s home, along with Margaret’s overly friendly beta stepson, Thomas. A disturbing psychological game ensues: by insisting on her freedom, is reluctant mother-to-be Charlotte endangering the health of the baby? Or are her cold, wealthy keepers holding her hostage, using her own mother’s troubled past as justification to detain her?
Lawrance’s work as Charlotte in the film is at turns quiet and eruptive; playing against the legendary Fiona Shaw’s Margaret, a darkly possessive and grief stricken matriarch, Lawrance carves out a space for her own character’s mystery. We know that Charlotte’s mother was herself not up to the work of being a mother due to mental illness. When Charlotte finds out she’s pregnant, her first instinct is to have an abortion; yet the posh doctor she sees is discouraging and pushes her to embrace motherhood—we find out later that he tells Ben’s family about the pregnancy before she gets the chance to tell Ben. Charlotte responds with small rebellions—chugging a glass of wine here, taking a few puffs of a cigarette there. No one, however, seems to be interested in what she wants for herself; not even Ben, whose excitement over fatherhood distracts him from Charlotte’s trouble.
Lawrance, who also appears in Steve McQueen’s upcoming Small Axe trilogy, was encouraged to audition for the role—her first leading one on screen—by her friend Jack Lowden, who plays Thomas. She and Lowden, who also produced Kindred, had already appeared together in the television adaptation of Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, about a formerly enslaved Jamaican woman’s recollections of her life on a sugarcane plantation. This new collaboration, however, would have a different thrust. “What I really liked about the Kindred script is that Charlotte wasn’t racialized as Black,” Lawrance told me over Zoom, “which means there’s a chance for the audience to empathize with what’s happening without there being any overt explanation of why she’s there. I think that always adds to the mystery of it, and I’m interested to see what the racial overtones and undertones are that people glean from it.”
It’s exciting to see a Black actress of such talent as Lawrance lead a film that privileges layers of interpretation over too-easy polemics, using a grand yet subdued backdrop to ask questions about agency and authority without weaponizing identity to do so. This kind of staging allows an actress who would typically be racialized at every turn in a lagging industry to display her range without having to crank the volume. Still, that Charlotte is a Black woman and not from an upper-class background is not erased from the film. Lawrance inhabits Charlotte as an outsider in her environment, but not within herself; she’s always quite sure of the absurdity of what surrounds her and conscious of its stifling and ultimately dangerous effects. Yet this consciousness only further endangers her, because even those she is led to believe are her allies fail to hear and support her.
“There are some resonances between my own experiences in the world as a Black person and Charlotte’s [experiences in the film],” Lawrance explains. “She’s in a house surrounded by white people who say that they’re there to take care of you, but then what they’re deeming as care mis actually for [her] downfall.” In Kindred, white (medical) patriarchy is also upheld by people of color and women, drawing parallels to the workings of the Western film industry, for example. Still, things are looking up for Lawrance. Currently, she is slated to co-star with Black Panther breakout Letitia Wright in the upcoming Agnieszka Smoczynska film Silent Twins, based on the true story of Black Welsh twins June and Jennifer Gibbons, who chose to be mute and only communicate with each other—fostering dreams of becoming writers before going on a petty crime spree. Lawrance tells me she can’t say much about the film at this early stage, but hopefully, her casting signals her lasting presence on screen.