Fish Tank (film)

Fish Tank is a 2009 British drama film written and directed by Andrea Arnold. The film is about Mia, a volatile and socially isolated 15-year-old, and her relationship with her mother's new boyfriend. Fish Tank was well-received and won the Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.[3] It also won the 2010 BAFTA for Best British Film. It was included in the BBC's The 21st Century's 100 greatest films (compiled in 2016), ranking at no. 65 on the list.[4]

Fish Tank
Fish tank poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAndrea Arnold
Produced by
  • Nick Laws
  • Kees Kasander
Written byAndrea Arnold
Music bySteel Pulse
CinematographyRobbie Ryan
Edited byNicolas Chaudeurge
Distributed byCurzon Artificial Eye
Release date
  • 14 May 2009 (2009-05-14) (Cannes)
  • 11 September 2009 (2009-09-11) (United Kingdom)
Running time
123 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget$3 million[1]
Box office$5.9 million[2]

The film was funded by BBC Films and the UK Film Council. It was theatrically released on 11 September 2009 by Curzon Artificial Eye.


Mia Williams is a volatile and socially isolated 15-year-old. She lives on an East London council estate with her single mother, Joanne, and younger sister, Tyler, and is highly antagonistic toward both of them. Mia is a loner, after falling out with her best friend, Keely. She provokes Keely's other friends, criticizes their dance routine, and head butts another girl. Mia regularly practices hip-hop dance alone in a deserted flat.

Near the estate, Mia comes across a skinny, tethered horse in a Traveller encampment. She tries to free it, only to be caught, taunted, and assaulted by two young men, the horse's owners. A third young man, Billy, the brother of the other two, is more sympathetic. He shows kindness towards Mia and explains that the horse is old and ill.

Joanne's new boyfriend, Conor O'Reily, is a charming and handsome Irishman. He compliments Mia on her dance moves, and invites Mia and Tyler to come with him and Joanne on a day-trip to the countryside. He introduces them to his favourite song, Bobby Womack's version of "California Dreamin'", and shows Mia how to catch a fish using her bare hands. Although Mia is abrupt with Conor, she appears to admire him.

At an internet café, Mia watches amateur breakdancing videos on YouTube. As she is leaving, she takes a leaflet for a club that is advertising for female dancers. Keely's friends enter and they exchange taunts. With Billy, she sneaks into a junkyard, where Billy steals a car engine part. She visits Conor at the hardware store where he works as a security guard. Conor encourages her to apply for the dancing audition, and lends her a video camera to record an audition tape. Their interactions become increasingly flirtatious. Conor puts on cologne and asks her what she thinks of it. He then suddenly administers a spanking to her under the pretext of punishment for running off when a social worker came to visit. One night, Mia becomes jealous and angry when she overhears Conor and her mother having sex. Conor looks in her direction but it’s unclear if he sees her.

Mia sends in her tape and is invited by the club to perform in person. Late one night, with Joanne passed out drunk upstairs, and after Mia and Conor have also been drinking, Conor asks to see her dance routine in the living room. She dances to "California Dreamin'", and Conor then invites her to sit next to him and they have sex. Before returning to Joanne's bedroom, Conor tells Mia to keep their liaison a secret. The following morning, Mia hears her mother crying: Tyler tells her that Conor has left. Mia tracks him down to his home in Chadwell St Mary and confronts him. He explains that he cannot see her any more because of her age. He drives her to Tilbury Town railway station and provides her fare. However, Mia returns to his house and sneaks in through the house's back window. She finds a video camera which reveals footage of Conor's wife and young daughter, Keira. Out of anger, Mia urinates on the living room floor; and then sneaks out of the back door when the family return home.

Mia watches Keira riding her scooter outside the house, and impulsively pressures her to come with her, supposedly for ice cream, under the pretence that Keira's mother had suggested it. They walk across the fields to the River Thames, at which point Keira tries to escape. Mia catches up with her, but in the struggle inadvertently pushes her into the water. Terrified, Mia pulls her out and takes her home. As Mia returns to her home, Conor's car screeches to a halt beside her. Mia runs away and Conor chases her across a field, then strikes her across the face and walks away without a word.

The next day, Mia goes to her audition. However, she soon discovers that it is for erotic dancers. The other participants are all grown women wearing heavy makeup and provocative clothing. Mia takes the stage wearing a hoodie, but as the music starts she walks off without performing her routine.

Mia goes in search of Billy. When she arrives at his place, Billy tells her that the horse had to be put down, in which Mia responds by breaking down in tears. Billy says he is moving to Cardiff, and invites Mia to join him. She returns home to pack. Despite Joanne's coldness and reluctance to say goodbye, Mia, decides to join Joanne and her sister in dancing to Nas' "Life's a Bitch", their dance moves synchronising together. Mia goes to Billy's car after hugging Tyler goodbye. The two set off for Wales to start a new chapter in their lives.



Katie Jarvis, who plays Mia, had no prior acting experience. She was cast for the film after one of Arnold's casting assistants saw her arguing with her boyfriend in Tilbury Town,[5][6][7] which is the railway station featured in the film.

Principal photography began 28 July 2008 over the course of six weeks,[8] and was filmed in chronological order. At the end of each week the actors were given the scripts for the scenes that they would perform the following week, so that when they performed each scene they were largely unaware of what would happen to their characters later in the film.[9]

Location filming took place on the Mardyke Estate in Havering,[10] in the town of Tilbury, and on the A13.


Music features prominently in the film, particularly connected with Mia's dancing. The song she uses at her audition is "California Dreamin'", as covered by Bobby Womack (1968). The CD she borrows from Conor is The Best of Bobby Womack (2008), on which "California Dreamin'" appears on track 17, as Mia requests. Towards the beginning of the film, the song "Me & U" by Cassie is also used and the video for Down 4 U by Ja Rule and Ashanti is watched by Mia when she first meets Conor. Other songs include "Jah Rule (w/ Paul St. Hilaire)" by Rhythm & Sound (Album: W/The Artists), "Life's a Bitch" by Nas, "Just to Get a Rep" by Gang Starr, "Cool Down the Pace" by Gregory Isaacs, "Your House" by Steel Pulse, "Juice" by Eric B and Rakim, "Baby girl" by Wiley, "Show Me Love" (Stonebridge Club Mix) by Robin S, "Get Up Offa That Thing" by James Brown, "In The Fading Light" by New Device, and "Original Nuttah" by Shy FX & UK Apache.



The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on 14 May 2009.[11] Curzon Artificial Eye and IFC Films acquired United Kingdom and United States distribution rights to the film respectively.[12][13] The film went onto screen at the Edinburgh International Film Festival,[14] Karlovy Vary Film Festival,[15] Telluride Film Festival,[16] and the Toronto International Film Festival.[17] The film was released in the United Kingdom on 11 September 2009.[18] It was then released in the United States on 15 January 2010.[19]

Critical receptionEdit

Rotten Tomatoes reports that 91% of critics reviewed the film positively, based on a sample of 143 reviews, with an average rating of 7.6 out of 10. The consensus states "Cannes Jury Prize-winner Fish Tank is gritty British realism at its very best, with flawless performances from newcomer Kate Jarvis, and Michael Fassbender."[20] The New Yorker's David Denby writes, "Fish Tank may begin as a patch of lower-class chaos, but it turns into a commanding, emotionally satisfying movie, comparable to such youth-in-trouble classics as The 400 Blows".[21]

Box officeEdit

Fish Tank was released domestically on 11 September 2009 taking £103,180 on its first weekend[22] and a total of £332,488. As of 15 June 2010, the film earned $374,675 in the United States and $1,612,034 elsewhere, bringing the worldwide total to $1,986,709.[1]

Home mediaEdit

A new high-definition digital transfer of the film was released on DVD and Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection in February 2011. Extras include three short films by director Andrea Arnold: Milk (1998), Dog (2001), and the Oscar-winning Wasp (2003).[23]


  1. ^ a b Fish Tank at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ "Fish Tank (2010)". The Numbers. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  3. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Fish Tank". Retrieved 9 May 2009.
  4. ^ Rigby, Sam (25 August 2016). "The 21st Century's 100 greatest films". BBC Culture. Retrieved 19 August 2020.
  5. ^ Higgins, Charlotte (14 May 2009). "How row set in train life-changing offer for Fish Tank star". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 May 2009.
  6. ^ Hoyle, Ben (14 May 2009). "Station row led Katie Jarvis to stardom in British film Fish Tank". The Times. Retrieved 27 May 2009.
  7. ^ Ebert, Roger (3 February 2010). "Fish Tank". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  8. ^ "Principal photography commences on Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank". BBC. Retrieved 7 March 2012.
  9. ^ David, Fear (14 January 2010). "Michael Fassbender: The middle man". Time Out New York. Retrieved 28 January 2010.
  10. ^ Press Book, p. 10.
  11. ^ "FISH TANK". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  12. ^ Mitchell, Wendy (13 May 2008). "Curzon Artificial Eye picks up four including Assayas' Summer Hours". Screen Daily. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  13. ^ Kilday, Gregg (13 August 2009). "IFC Films jumps into the 'Tank'". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  14. ^ "Fish Tank". Edinburgh International Film Festival. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  15. ^ "Fish Tank". Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  16. ^ Ellwood, Gregory (4 September 2009). "Telluride Film Festival reveals a slate full of Oscar hopefuls". Hit Fix. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  17. ^ Billington, Alex (20 September 2009). "Indie Trailer Sunday: Andrea Arnold's Festival Hit Fish Tank". First Showing. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  18. ^ Gritten, David (28 August 2009). "Andrea Arnold: 'I wish cinema could be braver'". Telegraph. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  19. ^ Scrietta, Peter (5 January 2010). "Fish Tank Movie Trailer #2". Slash Film. Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  20. ^ "Fish Tank". Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  21. ^ Denby, David (18 January 2010). "Wastelands". New Yorker: 82.
  22. ^ "UK Box Office: 11 - 13 September 2009". UK Film Council. Archived from the original on 9 May 2012.
  23. ^ "Fish Tank". The Criterion Collection.

External linksEdit