“We are all products of our environment. Some environments are just harder to survive in.”
Ever since the phrase ‘broken Britain’ was uttered, the film industry has been clamouring over itself to capture the harsh and diverse world of London youth culture on film, with noble attempts at either highlighting the issues, defying preconceptions or eliciting change. Things have arguably gotten a lot worse over the years, and the films have kept on coming, with Ben ‘Plan B’ Drew’s newly released Ill Manors hoping to become the definitive inner-city crime drama.
With all the patriotism of the Diamond Jubilee out of the way, then, let’s take a look at some of the best examples so far; a mixed bag of comedy, sci-fi, dystopia and harsh reality depicting the closed-off world so often seen on the news. Ill Manors may be the most exciting thing to come out of the woodwork so far, but the last decade is littered with images of a ‘broken’ generation crippled by circumstance.
10. Anuvahood (2011)
Designed as a sort of parody of the genre, Anuvahood stars Adam Deacon, a regular of films of its kind, as a mildly delusional guy trying to prove to the world how ‘bad man’ he really is. The film adopts the same comedic style as Attack the Block (more of that later), by laying the urban street slang on thick, and probably only ends up appealing to the people it’s taking the piss out of. Though a weak effort that never quite works, it’s a neat little reminder that not every 20-year-old in London owns a gun.
9. Shank (2010)
With various urban crime thrillers behind it, Shank quite wisely decided to put a new spin on the genre, and set its action in a dystopic East London of 2015. In the film’s vision of future Britain, knives have superseded guns and the young gangs of London have all but taken over. Sadly, even with a bunch of good ideas applied to a flagging genre, Shank wasn’t received well at all, and just served to hammer another nail in the coffin of street gang thrillers. Artistic and daring, the film didn’t live up to the promise of its intriguing premise.
8. Sket (2011)
Relentlessly shown how disaffected young inner-city boys had become, Sket decided to show the drama from a female perspective, making for one of the more satisfying examples of the genre. The title is derived from new slang for ‘slut,’ and injects very real gender issues into the already topical issues of gang life and street violence. It also boasts Lily Loveless in the lead, playing the vengeful younger sister of a girl attacked by a notorious gang. Sket demonstrated why young people might seek refuge in gangs in the first place, something strangely new for films of its type.
7. Harry Brown (2009)
It might be a bit of a cheat putting Harry Brown on the list, since the main protagonist is actually angry pensioner Michael Caine, but it’s his reaction to the crime that’s invaded his home that pushes the story, and the bloody torture and violence, forwards. The film is probably the most critical of the world it lives in on this list, since it’s told from the perspective of a man out of place and time, but set the standard for many films made about young gangs afterwards. It also contained a supporting role from Ben Drew, paving the way for this week’s release.
6. West 10 LDN (2008)
West 10 LDN was a TV movie made for BBC3 back in 2008, and was a valiant effort that would probably have done better on the big screen. Starring various familiar faces from the genre, including Noel Clarke and Adam Deacon, it set its happenings within a collection of tower blocks in West London. The distinctive culture, language and rules are depicted faithfully by the cast and writers, and the film dared to show how the lives of young Londoners ends up on the evening news for all to see and judge.
5. Adulthood (2008)
Noel Clarke has been a main feature of the genre since it blasted into cinemas, and his follow-up to previous effort Kidulthood remains one of the better films to be aspired by the issues it explores. It follows up on the life of Sam as he’s released from prison after serving six years. But, as it always seems to go, life outside is so safer or easier than it was inside, and Sam is confronted by people he hurt on a daily basis. Soon, he discovers that a new generation of young people are plaguing his area, and he takes it upon himself to stop the cycle before its too late for them too.
4. Bullet Boy (2004)
Though you couldn’t move for London crime movies after 2006, Bullet Boy was one of the first efforts to show an ignored area of Britain on the big screen. Pitched as a gritty drama about two brothers living in near-poverty, it slowly descends into violence when the goings on in Hackney start bleeding into their lives. Determined to go straight after leaving a young offenders institute, Ricky unwittingly gets his little brother into the same old trouble, and the cycle continues. Star Ashley Walters is now a stable performer of the genre, largely down to his brilliant turn in Bullet Boy.
3. Streetdance 3D (2010)
If all that violence gets to be too much, why not try for the watered-down version depicted in Streetdance 3D? Largely inspired by the working-class-beat-the-odds subgenre of American dance flicks, and the success of Britain’s Got Talent acts like Diversity, Flawless and George Sampson (who all feature in the film), the film attempts to shed light on the other side of youth culture. It says that the arts can save you no matter what your situation – a popular stance on crime and violence once against-the-odds stories from reality TV started to attack the public consciousness. The film’s not too bad, and provides a feel-good alternative that still tackles the issues.
2. Kidulthood (2005)
In many ways the current definitive example of the genre, it’s not hard to imagine that Kidulthood will be the film brought out to study noughties London 50-years from now. Written by Noel Clarke but directed by Menhaj Huda, the thoroughly British drama follows four disadvantaged youths living in an impoverished West London area. The choices the four characters opt or are forced to make lead the story to bleakness, violence and crime, and the film shows just how hard it might be for their real-counterparts to build better lives for themselves.
1. Attack the Block (2011)
The first sci-fi inflected look at the subject, Attack the Block made a huge impression when it landed in cinemas last year. Somehow transcending a limited home-grown audience despite the use of incomprehensible street slang and thoroughly British issues, Joe Cornish’s alien invasion thriller managed to be a great comedy, brilliantly original sci-fi, and socially-aware drama all at the same time. Main player John Boyega has quite rightly been praised from all corners for his performance as gang leader Moses, and Attack the Block remains the best, most original, example of a genre threatening to become stale.