Potter's visually lyrical, emotionally trenchant coming-of-age story centers on Ginger (Fanning), a smart, shy 17-year-old growing up in 1962 working-class Britain. Though Ginger seems at first to be the naïve, passively aggreable sidekick to her sultry, confident best friend Rosa (Alice Englert), she quickly reveals a political radicalism that isn't so much budding as forced into sudden, vibrant maturation. In Ginger's acutely felt universe, the imminent threat of the Cuban Missile Crisis collides with the slow shattering of her personal support system.
Her charismatic father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), a leftist political writer and petulant, brooding genius, abandons ship for the umpteenth time, leaving her alone with her angry and beleaguered mother, Nat (Christina Hendricks). Typically, Ginger resents her mum and ardently admires Roland, and eventually moves into his Bohemian-chic garrett. This only brings to boil the simmering romance between Rosa and Roland, as Ginger finds herself the discarded and invisible midpoint between the two people she cherishes most.
Fanning, who was only 13 during the film's production, is superb as Ginger. A beauty whose lankiness and self-possession belies her age, she captures the sexual confusion, stinging emotion and sincere idealism that goes with being on the cusp of womanhood, while maintaining a reasonably good Brit accent. (Interestingly, most of the actors populating this UK production are American.) She also is instantly believable as a poet and young radical, giving Ginger an observant intensity that accelerates into focused, angry volition.
True to her nickname, Ginger has flaming red hair, offset against the nuclear-fallout greys and blues Potter inflects into each frame. This works as a classic visual clue that Ginger is vividly different from others, most notably from Rosa, who we see tragically assimilate as the film and her toxic relationship with Roland progresses. Another redhead is Nat (Hendricks keeps her fire-engine locks from "Mad Men") who proves stronger than first impression, and worthy of her tightknit group of politically active friends (played by the near-unbeatable trifecta of Annette Benning, Timothy Spall and Oliver Platt). With this chorus of influences, Ginger charts the course of her front-line coming of age.