Criterion Month: Andrea Arnold’s Short Films… From ‘Milk’ to ‘Wasp’

This piece is by our guest writer, Shaun Alexander.

As a part of the Criterion collection release of Andrea Arnold’s 2009 film, Fish Tank, you are treated to not only the Jury Prize winning film, but also three short films Arnold directed previously: Milk (1998), Dog (2001) and Wasp (2003). When you watch these shorts as a collective it is clear to see how they became stepping stones for Fish Tank and Arnold’s other future films, which tackle themes that can disturb viewers at times with intense depictions of sexuality, poverty and family relationships.

The reason for my own personal interest in Arnold’s work is due to the socio-economic setting. Set in and around East London / Essex, Fish Tank has a number of locations which are within walking distance from where I have lived the majority of my life. These are streets I have walked down, these are roads I have driven past and that level of familiarity is not just with the setting but with the characters we see. I am friends with, worked with and went to school with the people that Arnold often focuses on in her filmography – good-hearted people with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Having these personal investments in Arnold’s work has made it fascinating to rediscover these short films and the way in which their ideas are clear influences on her later work.

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The Florida Project: On wealth inequality, childhood and the myth of the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’


‘The Florida Project’ is a film filled with sprawling images of pastel buildings, and drenched in a warmth so intense that it almost feels sickly. Such setting is used to depict an American summer that leads to the devastation of lives and the denial of a fair childhood, rather than one that allows children to enjoy their youth; to live out their early days in the safety of a permanent home, and in the happiness of the sun. Set at an outstandingly purple motel on the fringes of Disney World, ‘The Florida Project’ tells the story of Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), a six-year-old girl spending a long, languorous summer break wreaking havoc with her friends. In her makeshift castle, Moonee makes herself queen and roams around the land as if it is hers alone, seemingly unbothered by the lack of luxury that she grows up amongst. While other children spend Floridian summers in the company of Mickey Mouse and his fellow cartoon pals, Moonee spends hers helping her mother to sell perfumes to unwitting tourists. What is on display in ‘The Florida Project’ is the same kind of haunting, social realism that is found in Andrea Arnold’s ‘American Honey’. Neither film makes any kind of attempt to hide the striking poverty that ravages modern America, nor does either attempt to romanticise it. Moonee may be able to run around freely in the swampy surroundings of Disney’s outskirts, but she also has to run to the diner at which a friend’s mother works, in order to secure a dinner for the evening. An ice cream, for example, is only guaranteed if she tells strangers that she needs it for her asthma. Meanwhile, on the other side of a fence, thousands upon thousands of kids are given the greatest time of their young lives. Continue reading “The Florida Project: On wealth inequality, childhood and the myth of the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’”

Female Director Spotlight: Andrea Arnold’s Intimate Realism

Hey everyone! Dilara and I have decided to start a monthly female director spotlight here at Much Ado, so we can explore the amazing films of so many women in the industry whose work we believe deserves more acknowledgement, attention and/or appreciation. If you have any suggestions for directors you’d like to see here, please let us know! Gender imbalance is a deeply entrenched issue within film, and it’s disgraceful to see, especially when the work of so many women deserves much higher credit. For the first entry in this series, I’ve chosen my all-time favourite director, Andrea Arnold.


As a young, working class British woman, I often feel that British cinema does not represent my surroundings in the slightest – a feeling that I’m sure many others share when exploring the cinema of their home countries. British cinema is usually characterised by a certain middle-upper class charm, whether it be in the quaint fantasy world of Harry Potter, to elaborate costume drama reflecting on icons of the past, through to the romanticised portrayals of royalty which sanitise the distinctive class divisions that seem to be embedded within our social system. Without making this piece too political, discovering Andrea Arnold’s work provided me with access to the stories I grew up around and experienced daily, portrayed on screen with no sanctimonious sheen to dispel audience discomfort. Here was my own reality reflected at me, and for the first time, I felt represented.

mv5bmjexnzgznjcwn15bml5banbnxkftztcwotexnzm4mg-_v1_.jpgKatie Jarvis in Fish Tank (2009)

To move away from personal attachments, Arnold’s 2009 breakout work, ‘Fish Tank’, is the starting point I’d recommend for most newcomers. ‘Fish Tank’ homes in on what it feels like to have dreams of a better life, whilst being trapped in a cycle of poverty. It tells a brutal story of working class adolescence, featuring an amazing lead performance from first timer Katie Jarvis, as well as supporting roles from Michael Fassbender and a young Harry Treadaway. Arnold takes what could easily have become an over-the-top melodrama and skilfully channels it into an honest and sometimes heart-breaking portrayal of life on a council estate. The impact of neglect and misfortune on a strikingly human protagonist is incredibly moving, and it’s hard not to be deeply affected by lead character Mia’s struggle through teenage life.

Continue reading “Female Director Spotlight: Andrea Arnold’s Intimate Realism”