Shaun and Joey are two young brothers living in Glasgow with their single mom, Stace, who struggles desperately to keep afloat. Despite the troubles and disquiet in their lives, they have each other, as well as their ongoing project: building a space rocket.
When Stace finally reaches the end of her tether and the authorities get involved, the two kids decide to take matters into their own hands, running off to escape, via their homemade rocket.
Written and directed by Chris Bogle, this luminous, poignant short drama combines the unvarnished observational quality and attention to detail of social realism with subtle flourishes of lyricism that captures the inner life of its two young protagonists. The juxtaposition is seamless and poetic, capturing the interplay between the vagaries of poverty and struggle as well as the imaginative landscape of children navigating them.
The storytelling takes time to lay out both the circumstances of the young brothers’ lives, with thoughtful minimalism and a visual style that’s almost documentary-like in its eye for detail. The unhurried pacing and editing immerse us in their milieu, but also observe how the children absorb and deal with their mother’s struggles. The use of sound is particularly effective to portray how the boys register their inner and outer worlds, with the sounds of NASA transmissions portraying the internal world that Shaun escapes to when feeling particularly anxious or angry.
Stace — played by actor Sharon Osdin with both immense love and an increasing sense of overwhelm and depression — is generously given significant space by the writing to develop as a character in her own right, and we understand — perhaps more than her sons do — how tenuous her mental health is.
Young actors Jack Matheson as Shaun and Sonny Ferguson as Joe have an appealing understatement, capturing both the wariness of children in difficult circumstances and a fundamental innocence. Shaun and Joe’s ability to co-exist with their mother’s struggle isn’t exactly denial, but more a matter-of-fact acceptance as they find ways to escape, pouring much of their energy and attention on their rocketship. When their world begins to bottom out, the rocket is the only safe place they know — and where they escape to when they stand to lose everything they know.
“The Rocketship” is both about the vulnerability and resilience of children in the face of difficult circumstances. Films about kids often overplay their naivete or their cleverness, but the gift of this particular film is allowing its child characters to simply exist, observing and playing and absorbing all at once.
It captures how children understand more than they let on, but also their limitations in how they process and act upon their understanding. The only space where they feel truly in control is their imagination — an insight brought to life with great grace, in a story full of empathy and compassion for their struggles and strength.