Newcomer Lenora Crinchlow shines in this fresh and funny rags-to-riches Olympics-tinged fable.
"I just want to run… to a better place," whispers East End girl done good, Shania Andrews (Lenora Crichlow), as she tries to articulate her compulsion to better herself through sport. It's a hackneyed phrase, unrealistic and schmaltzy, but you do believe her.
Shania lives with her aunt and troublesome older sister in a council estate in inner London, and she trains every day with the local shopkeeper, Brian (Phil Davis), to become a sprinter. The unarticulated 'better place' that she dreams of is just that.
That is, of course, until she runs into the British athletics coach, Tommy Southern (Noel Clarke), at a qualifying race for the World Athletics Championships in 2011. Shania’s got talent, and she might be just what Tommy needs to cement his 4x100 female relay team. Suddenly, and with fairy tale-like simplicity, Shania is whisked into a world of designer trainers, coaches and washboard stomachs. This is what she always dreamt of, right?
Except that this new world comes with its own problems. First up, there’s Lisa Temple (Lily James), the glossy middle-class golden girl and previous 'anchor' of the British relay team, who sees Shania as a threat to her own sprinting aspirations.
Secondly, there’s Carl, the team’s physiotherapist, who Shania can’t help but become girlishly infatuated with. But mostly, it’s her background, which constantly drags Shania back down and away from her new, exciting lifestyle with Lisa and co. As her sister points out when she leaves the house to go to a glitzy athletics night: "You stink of Primark, innit."
It’s not hard to see where Fast Girls is headed, and it is far from a surprise when the female teammates put aside their differences in order to achieve the 'silk' that Tommy demands for the Championships. But the conclusion still gets you, with its booming urban soundtrack and its consoling affirmation of a new, tangible type of girl power.
Crinchlow’s steely edge, meanwhile, is well placed in a film of such sentimental proportions, and where Bend it like Beckham was predictable and reductive, Fast Girls is fresh and funny.
The supporting cast of fellow working-class athletes, Trix Warren (Lorraine Burroughs) and Belle Newman (Lashana Lynch), is also one of Fast Girls’ big successes. They understand where Shania comes from, and Trix’s heartfelt words at the end are the film’s most touching lines.
It's easy to get swept up, as Shania does, with its fast-paced narrative and relentless pace of it all, but it is also believable rags-to-riches tale. And it flows like silk.
More Olympic jingoism and a triumph against the odds – is this film really necessary?
Fresh, amusing and very British. We defy you not to shed a tear.
That Lenora Crinchlow is a pretty sharp new actress.