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Film Studies 101
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

Katie Jarvis
Kierston Wareing
Michael Fassbender
Rebecca Griffiths.
Andrea Arnold.
Andrea Arnold
Jason Maza.
Running Time
124 minutes

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Fish Tank
Red Road’s Andrea Arnold shows no signs of cheering up

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Ostracised by her friends and excluded from school, Mia (Jarvis) is a lairy teenager living in a high-rise block with her mother and younger sister. One day her mum brings home an enigmatic stranger (Fassbender) who is to cast a spell upon them all...

Fish Tank
Set on an estate caught between the sprawling fringes of London and the countryside leading out to Essex and the coast beyond, Andrea Arnold’s bucolic yet grimy second feature is an unlikely heartbreaker. Played out against the pockmarked A13 and the leafy environs set at its borders, Fish Tank is a social drama of cramped interiors and maladjusted lives abutted by scenes of breathtaking countryside, the latter courtesy of Robbie Ryan’s expansive cinematography.

It’s a well-worn path of tormented lives in tower blocks and dysfunctional families pulled to pieces by the departure of a father figure, but the central performances make the whole thing fly. At its heart is Mia (a searing debut from Katie Jarvis, who was spotted by Arnold arguing with her boyfriend at a train station), a disconsolate 15 year-old only happy when she’s chugging cider and dancing alone in an abandoned flat in her block. Her angst is matched by her mum’s (Kierston Wareing) scorn and younger sibling Tyler’s (Rebecca Griffiths) droll rebuttals. All three share the philosophy that the best form of defence is attack, and spend the first half of the film going off in each other’s faces like cheap fireworks.

When a half-naked Connor (Michael Fassbender) ambles into their kitchen one morning and pays Mia a compliment on her dance moves, she reacts like a startled animal that has never known love — bared teeth and disbelief. She’s even more confused by his generosity, especially when he makes time for them all as a family, though just below the surface is a brimming sexual tension between daughter and would-be dad that floods the lens: Connor slowly dresses a cut on Mia’s ankle and you’re surprised he doesn’t lick the rest of her leg. Mia is a jumble of longing and need; Connor, playing the man of the house one moment and protracted tease the next, is a knotty enigma that she can’t fathom.

It’s the duo that are central to the film’s success, their final protracted meltdown an unnerving exercise in the sickening feeling that betrayal brings and the unformed yet overwhelming desire for revenge at any cost. The final shot of a heart-shaped balloon rising up over the estate allows one last brief feint at hope.

A vivid portrayal of life at society’s margins with a compelling turn from newcomer Jarvis. Little wonder it scored at Cannes.

Reviewed by Philip Wilding

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Average user rating for Fish Tank
Empire Star Rating

review; the strong language, sexual scenes and underage smoking portrays a bad lifestyle, which is that realistic, you would not know it was a film. The way in which it is filmed, with wobbly handheld shots and color drained clips, give it a raw feeling which really plays with the audiences emotions when watching, this making it a must see. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jacobbourne at 15:24, 09 October 2012 | Report This Post

Fish Tank Review

Cannes Jury Prize-winner Fish Tank is gritty British realism at its very best, with flawless performances from newcomer Kate Jarvis, and Michael Fassbender. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by the film man at 21:16, 30 May 2012 | Report This Post


Andrea Arnold is a fantastic filmmaker who understands pace and story brilliantly. I can't fault this film. But please Empire, stop spoiling the films with your reviews. By describing the last shot of the film, you take away its power. Please understand that. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jrewing1000 at 18:02, 24 November 2011 | Report This Post

tp://]Fish Tankoes Andrea Arnold become the Mike Leigh or Ken Loach of this generation? In her most recent film Fish Tank we follow Mia (debutant Katie Jarvis), a 15 year old rebellious girl who lives together with her (step?)siters and mother in a poor, grey, housing project. When her mother meets a new guy (Michael Fassbender), slowly but surely something changes her. Arnold shoots the film in a realistic way that fits great in the sadness of the story told here. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 20:41, 27 March 2011 | Report This Post

fish tank

A hard, but touching portrayl of 15 year old Mya's (Jarvis) life on a tough outer- London estate with some outstanding performances especially from the minors. Check Tyler (Griffiths) as the foul mouthed little sister, and the confrontation between Mya and Connor's (the brilliant Fassbender) daughter on the wild river banks is frighteningly real. Shot in a bright, noisy colour with a strong soundtrack featuring a Bobby Womack song and countless classic Hip hop tracks from Nas to Gangstarr, thi... More

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Posted by gzus at 20:09, 13 March 2010 | Report This Post

I thought it was a bit depressing really and a bit long. Also I dont know why the director filmed it in 4:3 ratio how old fashioned. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Bighousewill at 12:58, 07 March 2010 | Report This Post

Very Good.

I rented this out for my sister and watched it last night. It was very good, tense worthy but a intresting honest film that brings a lot of emotion in it. The cast were brilliant, espeically newcomer Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender. This won't be for everyone's taste, it's not a film to watch again and again. But it's one not to miss, recommended. ... More

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Posted by joanna likes films at 10:34, 31 January 2010 | Report This Post


Really liked it. Was expecting a misery fest but was surprisingly charming, sexy and funny....not to mention very tense. Good Show Andrea Arnold! ... More

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Posted by Col.Dax at 21:40, 22 November 2009 | Report This Post


Really liked it. Was expecting a misery fest but was surprisingly charming, sexy and funny....not to mention very tense. Good Show Andrea Arnold! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Col.Dax at 21:40, 22 November 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Catch of the day!

This film really is a catch! David Somerset appears to have missed the point of the film completely. The direction is amazing, each scene manages to provoke another reaction from the viewing audience, tense in part but also warm from a certain perspective. I would say that in terms of it being like real life, that depends on your own life and experience. For me this is perfectly plausible. The script is dictated by Mia, it's a film firmly about her and all facets of her personality. ... More

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Posted by RustNS at 18:42, 18 September 2009 | Report This Post

Fish Tank

In all honesty i cant really think of a bad word to say about Fish Tank. I was never really much of a fan of Red Road but i thought it was intresting enough to recommend. Fish Tank is no easy watch but its also quite poetic and has some real visual beauty and the performances from Katie Jarvis in particular are all to real. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Soprano168 at 09:52, 18 September 2009 | Report This Post

RE: Catch of the day!

Although Katie Jarvis and Michael Fassbender, as the charming, roguish, potentially life-destroying boyfriend, are excellent, there's little else to recommend nk he first half-hour or so. It's a brutally honest portrayal of frustrated teen life on the crappy side of the class divide, certainly, but, like its central character, the film doesn't know what to do with itself after a while and meanders along in potentially interesting directions before, bizarrely, deciding to go to Cardiff. So ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by David Somerset at 10:46, 17 September 2009 | Report This Post

Catch of the day!

Good film catch it if you get the chance. Its never going to be close to real life but its a good effort by a brill director. Its super endearing loved this film and subject matter to bits. Please see this film and support good british cinema. 'Shifty' is another Brit flick thats worth its wait in gold. Come on Empire lets see you get behind more films like this. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by kanada83 at 18:32, 14 September 2009 | Report This Post

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