Sweary “hip hop musical” from Plan B’s Ben Drew…
When Plan B’s single “Ill Manors” came out in March, the rapper grandly introduced it as the first step in his new strategy to affect social change in the UK. Released in the build-up to the London mayoral elections, and accompanied by a promo video that drew heavily on news footage from last summer’s riots, its message about social alienation felt provocative and timely, though unlikely to have encouraged policy shift at the highest level.
Reverting to his real name, Ben Drew now drives his “Ill Manors” agenda up a gear. Shot on the south east London council estates where he grew up, Drew had made what he’s described as a “hip hop musical”, a series of interconnected stories populated by under-the-radar characters – drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes, teenage gangs. While a message might successfully be conveyed in a three-minute pop song, its not guaranteed that stretching it out to over two hours will be so effective.
At times, certain plot points feel like they’ve come out of an EastEnders’ Christmas Day special. With added swearing. A pub fire, you say, with a newborn baby trapped in a smoky room? What would Peggy Mitchell do? In one of the film’s most gruelling sequences, a prostitute is taken from one late-night chicken joint to another to have sex with the staff, to make back the cost of a mobile phone she’s been accused of stealing. What this says about disenfranchised urban living, it’s difficult to tell; it’s too much, too far beyond the socio-realism of Ken Loach or Andrea Arnold. Humanism and optimism are not on display here. If there is anyone here who exhibits any redeeming qualities, it’s the well-meaning if slow-witted Aaron (played by Riz Ahmed). He, at least, provides some kind of moral centre.