“The Last Tree” is a period piece set in 1990’s London and follows young Femi’s journey, settling back in with his birth mother after a having lived with a foster care family in Lancashire.
Femi goes from being sidelined as the only black child in his white classroom in Lancashire to experiencing a new angle of racism where he is now being sidelined as the darkest child in his black classroom in London, all of which sums up the multiple layers and dimensions that contirbute to race, identity and home in today’s world.
His life is switched from living a pretty idyllic childhood in Lancashire with a loving and caring foster mother and family coming to live with his birth mother, played by Gbemisola Ikumelo, who is about tough love and survival. They are constant at loggerheads with each other whilst also having to share a claustrophobic high rise flat in London whilst Femi continues to form new and potentially dangerous brotherhoods at school.
The set-up tells an all too familiar tale of poverty, gang life and knife crime that many young inner city kids are tempted with on a daily basis as is Femi, who is also succumbing.
Even whilst watching the film, we are aware that Femi is going to take this road like his many peers have done so previously and he gets more and more involved. However, the tone of the film completely changes when his mother decides to take him with her to visit his father in Lagos.
There is a sense of him being part of something much bigger and better than what his life is about in London something that he is unlikely to grasp there the sense of space and nature that is captured in the landscapes of Nigeria depicts this beautifully and time provides respite and space for him and the audience to take this in. Lagos provides a sense of heritage, belonging and above all an understanding between mother and son as we discover more about his mother’s struggles after being rejected by his father.
Femi’s contradictory lives, homes and locations add texture and depth into what is a unique crosscultural coming of age story supported by excellent cast and crew and the direction of Shola Amoo.