Ben Drew, aka Plan B has grown from strength to strength, since his musical debut in 2006. His directorial debut is a dark, gritty and often squeamish look into the effects of the drug trade in East London. The film is multi-threaded and multi-layered, and tells a realistic tale, that can only come from someone who has insider knowledge of these topics. Drew’s Forest Gate upbringing and knowledge of the area shows clearly.
A lot of the film was shot in Manor Park, a place that personally brings back memories, as I lived and schooled there for a small part of my life, yet it is a side of life I never saw there. I was always home straight after school and my friends from Plashet school, were in a similar boat to me – our Parents made sure that – education was number one, we had no ‘social life’ and apart from any travelling we did, TV, in our safe domiciles, was our only ‘out’ to the world.
The area has not changed much since the last eighties (I know, because I visited there recently, to try out some Jaffna Tamil and Keralan food), and as the landscape of places like Stratford change, gentrification is yet to reach this area, despite the Olympic Billions, which provides the perfect backdrop for such a story.
Some of this film was reminiscent of Dexter Fletcher’s brilliant debut, Wild Bill, which was also set against the Olympic village of London and it’s surrounding areas. Having also lived in a rather dangerous council estate, like with Joe Cornish’s Attack the block, and having witnessed kids embroiled in the drug game, this film was indeed a worrying look at the ‘other side’ of life in London.
In terms of casting, the entire spectrum of actors, from the youngest to the oldest, fit the part extremely well. For me, Riz Ahmed has always shown promise, especially after seeing him most recently, in Michael Winterbottom’s Trishna, Four Lions and Shifty. He embodies every role he plays and I am indeed looking forward to him bringing to life, the role of Changez, in movie of the brilliant book of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. But I digress. BAFTA nominated Natalie Press was impressive, as were Nick Sagar and Anouska Mond.
One of the things that stuck out the most to me, was the simple yet effective anecdotal poetry, that etched each character and their motivations – weaving this into the story’s narrative is indeed a touch of genius. Drew’s lyrical prowess and mastery of the storytelling aspects of Hip Hop show a very mature and crisp use of rap music, which is often vilified in the media.
Most disturbing, for me as a fellow woman, was the portrayal of the female characters in this film – there was not a single strong, self assured woman character, to balance out those who had to endure terrible circumstances, due to their drug habits, or childhood abuse, thus turning to prostitution and such. While it is a slice of life, there are many women who beat the odds of getting drawn into this world. That would be my only criticism of the screenplay.
Just one character who shows strong parenting, would have balanced this out, somewhat, as there are millions of well brought up kids, who would never fall into such traps, for every one kid who does. Of course, the female social worker of Aaron (Riz) comes into the picture, but only just – she obviously taught him well and his is largely the moral compass in the film, as a result.
Many Parents forget to actually ‘Parent’, but try to be a friend to children who are already in an environment which is conducive to danger. This, sadly, is a truth of life around the world – busy Parents who allow the TV to be a babysitter, Parents who have no time, due to work commitments, to see who their children are spending time with and more often than not, lack of childcare, which is increasingly ‘too expensive’ to bear the brunt of.
Lack of strong, smart role models in the lives of kids, who see reality TV and 15 minutes of fame as being their only goals in life. Kids who dream of becoming a ‘drug lord’, as they see that as being a position of power. These are all realities that even the British rich have to face. But Drew, himself a product of such a society, has shown that he has not only come past what may have been and that he can provide intelligent social commentary, which packaging it into a tough to watch, yet is powerful and must be seen by as many people as possible.
The film also serves, in my humble opinion, as a political wake-up call, about issues that are almost always glossed over. It comes in the aftermath of the London riots and showcases how many kids are born into lives of crime. Some shocking scenes stand out and remind us all, that life is cruel to many, BUT, their proclivity for good can always overcome. The film spells out hope, in way of the baby, who is a metaphor for a brighter future. It also shows that a mother’s love can defeat all odds.
I especially enjoyed seeing Plan B’s cameo in this film and applauded that he captured the humanity of otherwise misguided characters. Like Noel Clarke and his realistic movies, in which Drew acted, he shows an incredible insight into a part of Britain that many of us would not like to acknowledge, let alone help to change. I look forward to seeing him in The Sweeney with one of my favourite British actors, Ray Winstone. Kudos, Mr Drew. Catch Ill Manors at cinemas all over the UK, on general release from 6th June – do be warned that much of the content is disturbing, raw and very gritty.