NW full movie review - Better than the novel
I want to add my review of NW because I read Zadie Smith's novel a few years ago. I've just watched the film and enjoyed how it captures Smith's portraits of life in a working class area of North London.
The film aptly condenses the book's events and highlights further Smith's comments on life in modern Diversity Britain.
The film made clearer that the tension in Leah and Natalie/Keisha's relationship now they are adults is mostly due to class difference. They were from the same background, the same estate, the same school, and still lived in the same area. Natalie managed to become a Oxbridge student, attend law school, become a barrister and marry a man from a wealthy family (the film doesn't show that her husband's parents were an African student and the daughter from a rich white family but the character is played by a man with a light complexion). Leah was troubled by how her friend had changed, and how she was perceived by Natalie's new friends, particularly at her dinner parties. She worked in social care, was married to a ambitious man, but still felt, comparing herself to Natalie, she had achieved nothing, and she was trying to figure out how to live her life.
Zadie Smith's novels also reflect on race, and the fact that Natalie's fortunes rose, while Leah's didn't, and her (white) family was also still living in council housing, added more tension to their relationship. Leah was by no means racist, but both Leah and Natalie remembered their growing up together and fancying the same boys at school. Natalie feels guilty that she was now socially above her school friends and people she had known all her life. Shar's comment about her being up herself and a coconut- black on the outside and white on the inside- is included in the opening scene of the film. The film elaborates further on how Natalie, at the start of her professional career, is advised to tone herself down so she won't be threatening to white judges and white barristers. One of her older white colleagues squeezes her breasts and apparently she feels helpless to complain.
In the book and the movie all of Leah and Natalie's school friends became criminals, drug addicts, or both. In the book Natalie's mother lost all the money the family had because she gave it to a project building churches in Africa that turned out to be a scam. The movie made me realize how much both Natalie and Leah were anxious and felt guilty about trying to rise above the people they grew up with. I think Leah didn't want children out of fear she would become like the people around her - the movie suggested that Natalie emotionally neglected her children sometimes, and left them in care of the nanny.
The film made me empathize more with Nathan, as it makes him more sympathetic than the way he is portrayed in the novel (the film cut a long sequence where he visits a female friend in Soho before he travels back and is killed on his way home). He struggles to improve his life and tries to help his troubled father, but ultimately he falls victim to a local thug (Nathan is his accomplice). I appreciated the portraits of strong and kind black men: both Leah and Natalie have partners who care for their families and work hard to provide for them and protect them. Nathan's killing is a memento mori for Leah and Natalie, and by informing the police they rise above the violence that was part of their background growing up. Nathan's killing also shows how vulnerable life is for them and the people they live with: Natalie cries when she sees how the little boy she passes in the street is already used to seeing murder sites in their neighborhood.
The film's ending is much more powerful than the book's: it eliminates part of the encounter between Natalie and Nathan I found hard to believe. I still don't understand Natalie's attraction to internet sex sites and sex with strangers. Perhaps she felt that her new life and new identity was so unreal she had to mix with people like the ones she grew up up to atone for it, or to feel more like she did when she was growing up in an area surrounded by drug use and constant danger. I appreciate how the film doesn't capitalize on her sex addiction for sensationalism. It's a moving account of individuals who are stuck between bettering themselves and allowing themselves to become resigned to their difficult environment and backgrounds.