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Fish Tank (film)

Fish Tank
File:Fish tank poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Andrea Arnold
Produced by Nick Laws
Kees Kasander
Christine Langan
David M. Thompson
Written by Andrea Arnold
Starring Katie Jarvis
Kierston Wareing
Michael Fassbender
Cinematography Robbie Ryan
Edited by Nicolas Chaudeurge
BBC Films
UK Film Council
Kasander Film Company
Distributed by IFC Films
Release dates
  • 14 May 2009 (2009-05-14) (Cannes)
  • 11 September 2009 (2009-09-11)
Running time
123 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £1.8 million[1]
Box office £1.5 million[1]

Fish Tank is a 2009 British drama film written and directed by Andrea Arnold. The film is about Mia Williams, a volatile and socially isolated 15-year-old who lives with her single mother, Joanne. The mother's new boyfriend, Conor, becomes attracted to Mia and has a sexual relationship with her.

Fish Tank was well-received and won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.[2] It also won the 2010 BAFTA for Best British Film. It was filmed in the Mardyke Estate in Havering,[3] the town of Tilbury, and the A13, and funded by BBC Films and the UK Film Council.


Mia Williams is a volatile and socially isolated 15-year-old. She lives on an East London council estate with her single mother, Joanne, and younger sister, Tyler, and is highly antagonistic toward both of them. Mia is a loner, appearing to have had a falling out with her best friend Keely. She provokes Keely's other friends and head butts another girl when Mia criticises their dance routine. Mia regularly practises hip-hop dance alone in a deserted flat.

Near the estate, Mia comes across a skinny, tethered horse in a traveller encampment. She tries to free it, only to be caught, taunted, and assaulted by two young men, the horse's owners. A third young man, Billy, the brother of the other two, is more sympathetic. He shows kindness towards Mia and explains that the horse is old and ill.

Joanne's new boyfriend, Conor O'Reily, is a charming and handsome Irishman. He drives them on a day-trip into the countryside, intent on making a good impression with the daughters. He introduces them to his favourite song, Bobby Womack's version of "California Dreamin'", shows Mia how to catch a fish using noodling, and asks her to show off her dance moves. Although Mia is abrupt with Conor, she appears to be intrigued by him.

Mia goes to a cybercafe and watches amateur breakdancing videos on YouTube. Just as Mia is about to leave, she finds a flyer for a club seeking dancers and at the door, Keely's friends enter and they exchange taunts. Mia visits Conor at work, as a security guard at a hardware store along with Billy, and they sneak into a junkyard for auto engine parts. Conor encourages Mia to apply for the dancing audition. He lends her a video camera to record an audition tape. Their interactions continue to be flirtatious. After giving Mia the camera, Conor puts on cologne and leans into Mia while asking what she thinks of it before suddenly administering a spanking for running off when a social worker visited. One night Mia secretly witnesses Conor and Joanne having sex. Mia then goes back to her room and slams the door several times. Mia sends in her tape and is invited by the club to perform in person. Late one night, with Joanne passed out drunk upstairs, and after Mia and Conor have both been drinking, he asks to see her dance routine in the living room. When she dances to "California Dreamin'", Conor then invites her to sit next to him which leads to them having sex. Before returning to Joanne's bedroom, Conor tells Mia to keep their liaison a secret.

The following morning, Mia hears her mother crying, Tyler tells her that Conor has left. Mia tracks him down to his home in Chadwell St Mary and confronts him. He explains that he cannot see Mia any more because of her age. He drives her to Tilbury Town railway station and provides her fare. Instead, Mia comes back and sneaks in through the house's back window. Finding a video camera and watching it, she then discovers Conor's wife and young daughter, Keira. Mia then urinates on the living room floor and sneaks out of the back door upon the return of Conor's family.

Watching Keira riding her scooter on the house's road, Mia impulsively pressures Keira to go with her under the claim that Keira's mother told Mia to take her for ice cream. Going out into the fields and reaching the River Thames, Keira tries to escape. Mia catches up with her, but in the struggle, Mia throws Keira into the turbulent river water, disappearing and resurfacing after a moment then Mia pulls her out, and takes her home as night falls. When walking along a street, Conor's car screeches to a halt beside her. Mia leads Conor on a chase, when he catches up with her, he slaps her, knocking her to the ground, and then walks away without saying a word.

The next day, Mia goes to her audition. It is immediately obvious that it is for erotic dancers. The other participants are all grown women wearing heavy makeup and provocative clothing. Mia takes the stage wearing a hoodie, but as the music starts, she walks off before performing her routine.

Mia goes in search of Billy. When she arrives at his place, Billy tells her that the horse had to be put down. Mia sinks to the ground in tears. Billy says he is moving to Cardiff, Wales, and invites her to join him.

Mia returns home to pack, dances with Joanne and Tyler, and goes to Billy's car after hugging Tyler goodbye. The two set off for Wales.



Katie Jarvis, who plays Mia, had no prior acting experience. She was cast for the film after one of Arnold's casting assistants saw her arguing with her boyfriend in Tilbury Town,[4][5][6] which is the railway station featured in the film.

Principal photography began 28 July 2008 over the course of six weeks,[7] and was filmed in chronological order. At the end of each week the actors were given the scripts for the scenes that they would perform the following week, so that when they performed each scene they were largely unaware of what would happen to their characters later in the film.[8]


Music features prominently in the film, particularly connected with Mia's dancing. The song she uses at her audition is "California Dreamin'", as covered by Bobby Womack (1968). The CD she borrows from Conor is The Best of Bobby Womack (2008), on which "California Dreamin'" appears on track 17, as Mia requests. Towards the beginning of the film, the song "Me & U" by Cassie is also used and the video for Down 4 U by Ja Rule and Ashanti is watched by Mia when she first meets Conor.

Other songs include "Jah Rule (w/ Paul St. Hilaire)" by Rhythm & Sound (Album: W/The Artists), "Life's a Bitch" by Nas, "Just to Get a Rep" by Gang Starr, "Cool Down the Pace" by Gregory Isaacs, "Your House" by Steel Pulse, "Juice" by Eric B and Rakim, "Baby girl" by Wiley, "Show Me Love" (Stonebridge Club Mix) by Robin S, "Get Up Offa That Thing" by James Brown, "In The Fading Light" by New Device, and "Original Nuttah" by Shy FX & UK Apache.


Critical reception

The film currently holds a 90% "certified fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 142 reviews with an average score of 7.6 out of 10. The consensus states "Cannes Jury Prize-winner Fish Tank is gritty British realism at its very best, with flawless performances from newcomer Kate Jarvis, and Michael Fassbender."[9] The New Yorker's David Denby writes, "Fish Tank may begin as a patch of lower-class chaos, but it turns into a commanding, emotionally satisfying movie, comparable to such youth-in-trouble classics as The 400 Blows".[10]

Box office

Fish Tank was released domestically on 11 September 2009 taking £103,180 on its first weekend[11] and a total of £332,488. As of 15 June 2010, the film earned $374,675 in the United States and $1,612,034 elsewhere, bringing the worldwide total to $1,986,709.[1]

Home media

A new high-definition digital transfer of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in February 2011. Extras include three short films by director Andrea Arnold: Milk (1998), Dog (2001), and the Oscar-winning Wasp (2003).[12]


  1. ^ a b c Fish Tank at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Fish Tank". Retrieved 9 May 2009. 
  3. ^ Press Book, p. 10
  4. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (14 May 2009). "How row set in train life-changing offer for Fish Tank star". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 May 2009. 
  5. ^ Hoyle, Ben (14 May 2009). "Station row led Katie Jarvis to stardom in British film Fish Tank". The Times. Retrieved 27 May 2009. 
  6. ^ Ebert, Roger (3 February 2010). "Fish Tank". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 8 February 2010. 
  7. ^ "Principal photography commences on Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank". BBC. Retrieved 7 March 2012. 
  8. ^ David, Fear (14 January 2010). "Michael Fassbender: The middle man". Time Out New York. Retrieved 28 January 2010. 
  9. ^ Rotten Tomatoes
  10. ^ Denby, David (18 January 2010). "Wastelands". New Yorker: 82. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Fish Tank". The Criterion Collection. 

External links

Template:London Film Critics Circle Award for British Film of the Year