Published on July 2nd, 2012 | by Nicola Marchant0
Movie Monday: Why Ill Manors Should be Given a Chance
Another week, another cinema turnaround. Out with the dregs of June’s Superhero blockbusters and Wes Anderson; in with a fresh serving of domestic comedy and more Emily Blunt.
Among the flock to soon be departing our screens is Plan B, aka. Ben Drew’s directorial debut Ill Manors. This article will tell you why – if you haven’t already – you need to catch it before it goes.
2011 was a great year for British film: Tyrannosaur; We Need to Talk About Kevin; Weekend; Wuthering Heights. To say that rapper-come-filmmaker Ben Drew has brought our industry back on top may be a tad optimistic. But what he does bring is an important voice to British cinema.
Political popstars are few and far between these days. Even less so in Britain. Not since the days of Sid Vicious and God Save the Queen have we had the angsty, anarchic energy of a disaffected youth reflected in the charts. That’s not to say that vapidity goes hand in hand with the microphone. M.I.A, for one, takes a fiercely libertarian approach in raising awareness for human rights abuse. But the youth associate her more with her bouncy pop hit Paper Planes than her activism.
Back in April, Plan B’s single Ill Manors was dubbed the best political activist song in decades. His topical lyrics present an assessment of a disenchanted Britain, as well as providing the title track for his directorial debut of the same name.
Ill Manors takes place in Drew’s home town of Forest Gate, a desolate borough of East London – far removed from trendy Hackney, in Stratford’s Olympic shadow. He presents an accurate truth, naturally ascribing London’s ethnic melting pot to his narrative without ever treading danger of stereotyping or tokenism. The world needs to see the real London – a vibrant mix of cultures; far removed from the Richard Curtis whitewash people have grown accustomed to.
The premise isn’t desperately original. The ‘mean streets’ of London is a blueprint that has been repeatedly played out in British cinema with the likes of The Long Good Friday, and Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood /Adulthood, in which Drew himself starred. It’s messy, too – Drew gets carried away with trying to cram too much plot into its 121 minute running time. What would have worked as just 2 or 3 interlinked plot pieces instead becomes a frantic network of clutter. This is unfortunate, for everything – from the gun toting wannabe gangsters to the immigrant brothels – is truth; either read about in a newspaper or experienced by Drew himself. One particular freeze frame of a baby falling from a burning building immediately conjures up the infamous photo of a woman jumping through the fires of last summer’s London riots. However, the fantastic plot structure may provoke audiences to dismiss Drew’s narrative as creative fiction. But it is of vital importance that they do not.
All eyes are on London this year. The spotlight, in particular, is on the East. It’s no coincidence that Radio 1 decided to host their 2012 Big Weekend (their biggest yet) in Hackney. Once or twice throughout the film, the Olympic stadium creeps wryly into shot – an ominous backdrop of glamour to the poverty in its shadow. The message is clear: the government is happy to pump £12bn into an esteemed sporting event, whilst it continues to neglect its surrounding neighbourhoods. This is the London they don’t want the tourists to see.
It is a film that needs to have been released. Privileged suburbanites and hipsters alike need to know what life is like in the part of their city that even the tubes won’t go to. If London wants to be a community, it needs to start acting like one.
It’s also a showcase of Drew’s talent. As well as writing and directing the feature, he also composed the entire soundtrack. As expected with a first timer, some of the tracks don’t quite work – the film equivalent of an album filler, they play out as unnecessary voiceovers, distracting from the narrative on screen, and often border on the self-indulgent. But the ones that do work, really work. In particular, the rap accompaniment to the seduction of a 15-year-old boy into a street gang is harrowing: ‘Just another poster child for David Cameron’s broken Britain’ Drew spits, as they humiliate and torture a man for fun.
His Hitchcockian cameo as a taxi driver in the final scene neatly rounds it off. Hitchcock he is not, but voice of a generation he may well be. And this generation is in desperate need of one.