"Andrea Arnold's sensitive direction sticks closely behind Mia, so we're able to see her inner life and her internal conflicts from her perspective"

By now we should all be familiar with "gritty social realism", all washed out grey skies and  graphito-ed concrete.  But Fish Tank is much more than just another bleak hymn to the downtrodden working class; it's a surprising and excellent slice of urban drama and one of the best films in the genre.

Fish Tank focuses on the story of Mia (Katie Jarvis), a surly 15 year old girl living on a harsh council estate in Essex.  Her confrontational nature has already got her kicked out of school and ostracised by her group of friends. She lives with her frustrated but irresponsible mother (Kierston Wareing) and foul-mouthed little sister (Charlotte Collins).  Her only source of happiness is her love of dancing which she practises alone in an abandoned flat. Things look bleak.

But when her mother brings home a charismatic and charming new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender), things start to change.  Mia's at first hostile to this new man in her life, another intruder butting his way into her affairs but when his easy-going and likable presence starts to draw the fractured family together, her attitude starts to change. He acts as a much-needed father figure for the two unruly girls but we're never sure if there's more to him than meets the eye; he seems too good to be true.

Fish Tank has no contrived Macguffins, no golden attainable target for its characters to aspire to.  Mia has no grand plan for escape, she's not chasing one big dream, she's just an angry and confused teenager, something that Britain has in abundance and because of this lack of a definite goal, the film feels palpably real. 

Andrea Arnold's sensitive direction sticks closely behind Mia, so we're able to see her inner life and her internal conflicts from her perspective.  This almost documentary feel allows a much more intimate portrayal of Mia's life and the direction brings out the best in all its performers.  Newcomer Katie Jarvis, (allegedly discovered at a train station arguing with her boyfriend) is sensational as Mia - angry, confused and prickly; she gives a performance that could rival any professional actor you could care to name.  Michael Fassbender is equally good as Connor giving a complex and delicate performance and special mention should also go to Charlotte Collins as Mia's sister, a ten year old whose foul-mouth is only matched by her comedy timing.

Arnold has succeeded in painting a compelling landscape of urban Britain, populated by intriguing and human characters.  Dark, constantly surprising, heart-wrenchingly emotional and above all real, this is an absolute must-see.