Did we like it?
Lennie James stars in a tale for our times as a detective forced to return to the inner city estate where he grew up after being assigned to the fatal stabbing of schoolboy Kwame by a teenage gang. Painting a depressing and nihilistic picture of life in the underclass, this was grim, powerful viewing. Well written, acted and directed, as a reflection on what is happening on some of these sink estates, a remark by Joe nails it: “This ain’t a war. Wars end. This just goes on and on and on.”
What was good about it?
· We’re plunged straight into London’s knife culture, as Kwame’s walk home from basketball practice turns from a happy-go-lucky stroll, chatting with his girlfriend on his phone, to his bare feet flapping on the pavement as the gang who have just knifed him steal his new trainers.
· James was excellent as copper Joe, resentful at being sent back to he estate he vowed never to return to, and simmering with anger and frustration at the behaviour and attitudes of the gang of teenage killers.
· An excellent young cast were completely convincing as the group of teenagers posturing and taking violent offence at every real and perceived offence. Jumayn Hunter as gang leader Dwayne, Charles Mnene as his second-in-command and knife wielder Emile, and especially Gugu Mbatha-Raw as object of desire Shanice were all superb.
· As Emile starts to mentally crumble under the weight of what he’s done, fractures start to appear in the gang and Emile and Dwayne engage in a power struggle over leadership and the attentions of Shanice.
· Joe also starts to crack, and after the investigation is fatally compromised by his misguided attempt to coach main witness Ronnie, he returns to the estate to vent his frustrations. Though he saves Emile from a potential stabbing by the other gang members, he proceeds to beat the living daylights out of him, railing, “I had to deal with fuckers like you when I was growing up, and now it’s fuckers like you that have dragged me back down here!”
· Although Shanice gained some redemption after being granted forgiveness for her actions by Kwame’s mother, there was no happy ending. Joe walked away a beaten man; Shanice failed to escape the estate; Dwayne lost the respect of the other gang members and a bruised Emile was left staring at the scene of his crime with the burden of his guilt clearly crushing him.
What was bad about it?
· Clearly, in order to give the drama the ring of truth, the actors spoke in the patois of the London estates. Unfortunately, that rendered some of the dialogue unintelligible to those not up on the latest street slang.