Lovers Rock is a humble prospect on paper- just over an hour long and set at an ordinary blues dance in Notting Hill in the early ‘80s. But with those simple ingredients, writer/director Steve McQueen and co-writer Courttia Newland have created a masterpiece of passion and joy.

McQueen takes his time getting to the dance itself, instead savouring the anticipation of the event: the goat curries cooked up, the girls doing each other’s hair, and the boys wiring up the sound system.

There are maybe nine significant characters and all are given strong personalities without a hint of exposition thanks to the alchemy of writing, editing, direction and memorable costume design. Lingering glances and hands on waists build up a vivid picture of the relationship dynamics at the dance, with Shabier Kirchner’s cinematography really capturing the passion and sensuality. It’s like a magic trick watching McQueen do so much with so little.

His breath-taking showstopper is set to Janet Kay’s ‘Silly Games’, as the young lovers rock back and forth, every single person basking in the blissful melancholy. Even those dancing solo sway and sing along with eyes closed, caught in an almost religious moment. In many ways it’s a perfect metaphor for cinema itself: an individual experience that’s most powerful when enjoyed with others.

McQueen and Newland aren’t just here to make a crowd-pleaser, though Lovers Rock is surely one of the most uplifting films of the year. They also map the gender dynamics with ruthless precision, focusing on the constant anxiety of navigating a party as a woman when there’s always a guy somewhere, circling like a shark, ready to ruin your night.

Lovers Rock is the kind of immersive, sensual experience that only cinema can provide. McQueen puts a microscope over a simple Saturday night and proves that in the right hands, it can hold the world.



CAST: Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, Ellis George

DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen

WRITERS: Steve McQueen, Courttia Newland

SYNOPSIS: A single evening at a house party in 1908s West London sets the scene, developing intertwined relationships against a background of violence, romance and music.