It’s a film of two stories. On screen, A Brixton Tale spotlights social divisions and strained loyalties but behind the scenes is a story about the refusal to be told you can’t do something. Directors Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrochers were at film school when they decided to turn Rupert Baynham’s graduation script into a film. Despite negligible funds and being told at every turn that it would take years to get it off the ground, the three kick started the project with their own savings, and shot it on a micro budget over the course of 18 days. But with the trio strapped for cash and having to return to their day jobs, post production took a little longer. Three years.
That it’s arrived in cinemas is an achievement in itself and the three, alongside everybody else who played a part in getting the film made, have more than earned their moment in the spotlight with their story of an affluent vlogger with aspirations to be a filmmaker. Leah (Lily Newmark) is moving away from YouTube and filming videos on the street, where she meets the shy Benji (Ola Orebiyi) and his more extrovert friend, Archie (Craige Middleburg). Benji increasingly features in her footage and the two grow closer, but the lines between film content and real life become increasingly, and dangerously, blurred.
The filmmakers’ confidence both in the story and their own ability to bring it to the screen was well founded. It’s a film full of promise and potential, wearing its low budget origins like a badge of honour. True, it has its downsides. The sometimes jerky narrative betrays that only three quarters of the script was committed to film, it generally feels rough around the edges and the secondary characters get little chance to develop. But, on the plus side it’s a tense portrait of a relationship across a social divide – Leah with her middle class home, limitless supply of film making equipment and contacts to help her progress in the industry, and the modest, thoughtful Benji who comes from a run-down housing estate and has little chance of getting a job, let alone breaking away from his background. And it’s one that society condemns to fail before it has a real chance to flourish.
Despite initially appearing to be Leah’s story, the film actually belongs to Benji and much of that is down to Ola Orebiyi’s (recently seen in Ben Sharrock’s Limbo) performance. Essentially the nice guy, he’s both engaging and, more importantly, totally believable as a young man caught in a situation he can’t control, and paying for his naivety. He’s also the member of the cast most at ease with the sparse dialogue and emphasis on facial expressions and body language. One look at his face, and you know exactly what he’s thinking and feeling. Familiar faces in the cast include Jaime Winstone and Michael Moloney, but both leave you wishing there’d been more chance to get to know them better.
Street filming gives A Brixton Story an authentic flavour, creating a recognisably conflicted backdrop for a frank look at class divisions, racism and inequalities with more than a dash of a modern day Romeo And Juliet. For all its limitations, this is an impressive debut, whetting our appetites for what could come next. To coin a phrase from Twitter, “give them the money, you cowards!”
Drama | Cert: 15 | Bulldog Distribution | Cinemas, 17 September 2021 | Dirs. Darragh Carey, Bertrand Desrochers | Ola Orebiyi, Lily Newmark, Craige Middleburg, Jaime Winstone, Michael Moloney.