The aversion to blood transfusions that is intrinsic to the beliefs of Jehova’s Witnesses has been the central focus of two successful feature films in the past year. There was Richard Eyre’s ‘The Children Act’, and this, Daniel Kokotajlo’s debut feature film ‘Apostasy’, in which he draws on his own experience of being raised in Manchester as a part of this extreme and cult-like religion. The film tells the story of one family’s struggle as they wrestle with the radical rules and regulations of this life.
Alex (Molly Wright) and big sister Luisa (Sacha Parkinson), devote most of their time to trying to spread the ‘truth’ of Jehova, going on door to door house calls, even learning to speak Urdu in order to better communicate with the large Muslim community in Manchester. Their mother, Ivanna (Siobhan Finneran), shares with Alex the complete conviction that they are preparing for Armageddon, and that only those who live by the rules of Jehova will be granted access to the paradise that lies beyond. Luisa, however, seems more distant, even choosing not to tell her new college friends about her faith. When she falls pregnant by a non-believer, she is brutally ‘disfellowshipped’ by the ‘elders’, who discourage her mother and sister from socialising with her.
Alex has battles of her own, as she is plagued with feelings of guilt and confusion due to the life-saving blood transfusion she received when she was born (against her mother’s wishes), treating a severe case of anaemia that still troubles her somewhat. The story’s focus shifts between Alex, as she is courted awkwardly by love interest Steven (Robert Emms), and the strained relationship between Ivanna and her shunned daughter.
Emms and Wright do a wonderful job in conveying their fumbling, incredibly uncomfortable courtship, both characters being very reserved. Wright has a sweet innocence that makes her character all the more sympathetic, but tainted by such a sense of sadness that she is prohibited from living the normal life that her age group lead. The film is rife with restriction, Finnerman and Wright playing their parts with a haunting and powerful blankness, leaving the only real outbursts of emotion coming from Parkinson’s Luisa, who does so well to portray the internal frustration, longing to snap her mother out of this brainwashed state.
There is a palpable feeling of melancholy that engulfs the film, and from which there is no respite. Set entirely in Manchester, the cold, grey colours reflect the bleakness of the story. There is an absence of colour where there is an absence of joy in the film, and it is safe to say that it isn’t an entertaining picture, but it is an original and shocking portrayal of a radical doctrine that is so enmeshed in the minds of its followers that they are willing to sacrifice anything in order to stay within its guidelines.
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