Single mum of four struggles to go on a date - Andea Anold's Oscar-winning short

Genre: Drama

Length: 25:46

Free To View

5 out of 5 stars

Producer/s : Natasha Marsh,

Director/s : Andrea Arnold, 

Writer/s : Andrea Arnold, 

Actor/s : Natalie Press, Danny Dyer


Desperate in Dartford

Andrea Arnold’s 2003 Oscar-winning short is deceptively simple story set on a benighted estate in Arnold’s home town of Dartford, a charmless sector of outer London.

Zoe is a confused and highly inflammable ball of desperation. She loves her four young kids, and she’ll march barefoot into battle with another woman who hit one of them. Yet she’ll park them, even the baby, outside a pub all night with coke and crisps, so she can have a date with her schoolgirl crush, who has just left the army.

She needs money – the kids meal is a shared packet of sugar. More than that, she needs love, or failing that, any slight gesture of approval. She melts at David’s repeated assertion that she looks great (it’s about his only chatup line).

A wasp buzzes uselessly at the inside of the window, needing someone to open it to escape. Zoe is like that wasp, with her sting, but Zoe doesn’t seem to have any open windows.

Andrea Arnold draws this world dispassionately. She’s sympathetic to Zoe, but spares no sentiment. Jerky handheld filming reflects Zoe’s state of mind, and Arnold knows when to go in close – especially on the kids – and when to stay more distant. It’s a directorial masterclass.

It’s also a writing masterclass. The fight sets up the world, meeting David is the inciting incident, problems escalate as she denies that the kids are hers, and then can’t find a babysitter. She reaches rock bottom when she leaves the children to eat abandoned scraps of dropped takeaway food as she makes out in David’s car. And maybe at the end, Zoe’s window might be ajar.

Andrea Arnold is a rare filmmaker, taking us into the world of poor working women, here as in Red Road, Fish Tank, and American Honey. Glamourous and slick it’s not. Moving, memorable, and utterly brilliant, it certainly is.