Posted on 26th January 2024

How The End We Start From Showcases a Human Reaction to Environmental Crisis

Based on Megan Hunter’s acclaimed book of the same name, The End We Start From tells the story of a new mother (played by Jodie Comer) as she escapes a devastating flood soon after giving birth. Focusing on her personal journey, the film gives an up-close view of her reaction as she copes with displacement in the aftermath of an environmental disaster.

The film had its international premiere at Toronto International Film Festival in September 2023 and was released in the UK on the 19th of January 2024. We spoke with director Mahalia Belo and producer Leah Clarke about bringing the book to the big screen through writer Alice Birch’s screenplay.

“We wanted to bring this book to the big screen. The book is so effective because it speaks about a flood – a climate disaster – through the lens of new motherhood. While it remains true to conveying that experience, it is also incredibly scary when you think about it in the face of what’s happening in the world now.” – Mahalia Belo, Director

The End We Start From, both the film and the source material it draws from, makes sure that the focus is kept on the human reaction to the environmental disaster rather than the disaster itself.

We didn’t want to dwell on images of a flooded Britain as that’s not what the story is about. It’s about how the character reacts to what’s happened in a very intimate time, where she’s not just dealing with a new baby but also the crumbling of her family and the challenge of rebuilding it. As filmmakers, there can be a desire to get into a kind of ‘apocalyptic movie’ box. We didn’t want to do that, yet the film deals with a version of the future that’s very distressing.” – Leah Clarke, Producer

Screenwriter Alice Birch had a particular interest in how to engage with an environmental crisis, and how to use it to look at our world today. The mother, who is initially displaced by the floods, decides to venture back in once the crisis subsides and faces the situation head on rather than looking away, which could be an allegory for how humanity is seeing the consequences of climate change and choosing to do something about it rather than ignore it.

Alongside the decision to take the focus away from the disaster itself, no fantastical nor sci-fi elements are included, keeping the story focused on the characters.

“It was about not having an improbable outcome – she didn’t fly off to Mars. It’s about staying, rooting for the world we have. To me, that’s a positive message but it’s also a tougher choice.” – Mahalia Belo, Director

The final challenge in crafting this story was making the main character relatable. Audiences may have been taken out of the story if she was a brilliant action hero in an old-school escapist way. Instead, we have a lead who doesn’t quite know what to do.

“She has to just go with it. It’s about seeing somebody ‘normal’ survive. She’s a pretty privileged character at the beginning. Her family have a safe place, she has a partner and a nice house. She’s in a really good position, but even she can be affected by this terrible situation in a big way. There’s no avoiding it.” – Mahalia Belo, Director

There was some creative filmmaking at play when portraying the flooding itself; keeping it grounded and effective on screen and affordable from a production perspective.

We wanted to flood the main character’s house, to show her situation specifically, and that was creatively challenging. We managed to do it using a small build of the corner of a kitchen and a big bucket of water. We filmed it in slow motion with the water coming through the back, then did it again. It was amazing how simple it was, yet how effective it became in the story. It was important that the flood was shown from the angle of personal impact on this woman.

— Mahalia Belo, Director

Classically, the portrayal of climate change in film has been relegated to disaster films like The Day After Tomorrow, where the focus is placed on the weather itself and the destruction it causes, with the human characters often being lost in the visual effects’ heavy emphasis on spectacle. The End We Start From took great care in keeping the narrative character-focused.

“A lot of people read the script and thought “how on earth are you going to do this landscape?”, thinking that we were going pull off something like ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. But for us the success was in being more intimate, portraying the character’s experience of the flood – and water more generally – throughout the film. That’s done through the flooding of her kitchen, but also later when she’s swimming or standing in the rain. It’s those shots that as a viewer I find most engaging.” – Leah Clarke, Producer

Other perspectives on how we interact with the planet are also at play in the narrative. In exploring the main character’s past, Mahalia was interested in the misuse of electricity, by hyper-lighting those scenes with fluorescents and showing her and her partner regularly eating at restaurants and microwaving food at home. In contrast, the main character’s parents-in-law are portrayed as living less wasteful lives and are ‘stronger’ survivors in the aftermath of the flooding.

“That’s part of her journey in the film, connecting with another way of living.” – Mahalia Belo, Director

The shoot coincided with real life flooding occurring around the world, particularly in the UK, and in an instance of art imitating life and vice versa, increased flooding may become the norm for the UK.

“There’s something strange that happens when you’re making a piece of art – you might be predicting something, but this story fitted with something that’s happening now and that’s why we were so interested in making it.”  – Mahalia Belo, Director

It’s up to the audience themselves whether the film changes their behaviour, but speaking as a human being, I hope people connect with the idea of how this could happen to them and choose to function differently as a result

— Leah Clarke, Producer

Produced by Leah Clarke and Adam Ackland for SunnyMarch, Liza Marshall for Hera Pictures, along with Amy Jackson and Sophie Hunter,  and with support from the BFI, BBC Film, Anton, and C2 Motion Picture Group, The End We Start From is now in theatres in the UK.

Watch the trailer for The End We Start From here:

This case study was undertaken with the support of the BFI, awarding funds from the National Lottery, as part of the Sustainable Screen Fund to support all BFI National Lottery awardees in building environmental understanding and action on positive environmental change. Find out more about our partnership with the BFI here.

Want to know more about why climate content matters and how it can inspire audiences? Read our Climate Impact Report here.