The trim running time of Bertrand Desrochers and Darragh Carey’s A Brixton Tale means a complicated social drama is delivered while saving a hell of a lot of shoe leather in the process. Wealthy white YouTuber Leah (Lily Newmark) tracks down reserved black youth Benji (Ola Orebiyi) and secures him as the subject of a documentary for her well-connected aunt (Jaime Winstone). A relationship soon forms between the pair. However, Leah’s infatuation with filming is as potent as the love she has for Benji. The pair begin a relationship and complications swell from there on in.
There is an anxiety that radiates from this material, which is an intense, British feel-bad movie. The film’s themes of race, class and the systems that help cause the divides between them are not only relevant but converge in a brutally honest fashion. Gaze too long into Leah’s doe eyes and you can’t be sure of whether she comprehends the power of her actions, or if she’s oblivious to her status and one of the 21st century’s most infamous buzzwords: privilege. It’s clear from the get-go that Benji is not the stereotypical “product of his environment” that Leah appears hellbent on presenting him as.
In watching Leah’s cosy suburban home – which stands in vast contrast to Benji’s inner-city life – the differences between the pair are eventually what draws them closer to each other. Benji is no badman, but his proximity to a certain type of peril excites Leah personally as much as professionally. When he asks why Leah never invites him round to her house, the supposed hidden answer is obvious. In the same way, Benji is referred to as merely a friend among company.
The strength of A Brixton Tale lies in the fact that it never sands down its edges. Benji is a good kid. But his background and race make him easy to manipulate and, unfortunately, envisioning him as a typical product of violence and hooliganism is all too easy. His desire to show himself as a roadman becomes critical in the film’s latter half. Leah is pretty and bright, but her apparent naivety and youth doesn’t excuse her status. Much like Lenny Abrahamson’s 2012 bleak drama, What Richard Did, A Brixton Tale is swift in highlighting how much trouble one can avoid as long as you have the right connections.
A Brixton Tale’s weakness lies in some of its eagerness. It’s difficult not to feel that 15 minutes of connective tissue has been removed to keep the focus squarely on the committed leads. A subplot involving mental health feels too tidy and never hits as hard as it should. While supporting characters are given time to shine but not enough to fully breathe. The film may buckle slightly because of this, but it still provides a formidable education in media manipulation and edge. It’s certainly worth a look.
A look at media manipulation and race relations. What a time for this film to arrive.
Not enjoyable in the conventional sense. Leaves you with a feeling that more needed to be said.
Swiftly paced, but grim in its telling. Certainly worth seeking out.