Ben 'Plan B' Drew goes loud and lairy for this musical state of the nation address.
iLL Manors is a portmanteau portrait of broken down lives on the dark corners of Forest Gate, Manor Park and Romford Road, pockmarked by the palaces of the 2012 Olympic Games. Director Ben Drew, also known as Plan B, has fashioned himself as the voice of London’s margins.
iLL Manors – a tune, album and variant of the musical film – is tough, angry and volatile, a microscopic look at the knotted root of last summer’s riots and a macroscopic ‘fuck you’ to the political classes. It’s a call of protest in the best traditions of socially- conscious hip hop.
Acting like a Greek chorus but sounding a bit like Eminem, Drew introduces each of his major characters with a slice of rhythm and poetry. We learn of abusive foster carers and parents with a needle in their arm, of child-soldier gangs slinging dope, and alien immigrants forced into prostitution.
Our tour-guide through this "urban safari" is Aaron (Riz Ahmed), a Foot Locker-clad drug- pusher with wide, innocent eyes and a face like a Roman coin. He’s a conscientious soul, almost despite himself, and his unwillingness to accept the very worst of this poverty-stricken world provides iLL Manors with its major plot points.
As a filmmaker, storyteller and dissenting voice, Drew still has a way to go. Here, his attempts to fuse slice-of-life with state-of- nation, while showcasing his Tarantino-like ability to jigsaw disparate stories into one, feels inchoate and unresolved. With its time-lapsed cityscapes and frenetic montages, iLL Manors doesn’t quite do enough to emerge from the shadow of other state-funded grime works like Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood, Saul Dibb’s Bullet Boy and Mo Ali’s Shank.
In a lecture he delivered for TED, Drew said: "And then the riots happened, right? We’ve got a generation of youths out there on the streets. The weather is hot. It’s nice. They ain’t got nothing to do because all the community centres have been shut down."
The simplicities heard there are evident in his film. But iLL Manors, nevertheless, is a guttural call from a place that, for most of us, remains as remote as a jungle
Great tune and TED lecture built early buzz for this debut film.
Proof that, in his own words, who needs actions when you got words.
Drew may be the Jarvis Cocker or Damon Albarn of today’s austerity youth.