Review: iLL Manors

Back in 2009 disused phone boxes were plastered with posters for the Michael Caine 'OAP vigilante takes on feral youth drug dealer on a south London estate movie' Harry Brown.

Most featured Caine in a retro shot designed to conjure up Ipcress File glamour but in some of the capital's rougher areas the face of the film was Ben Drew, aka recording artist Plan B, who played the main hooded menace.

Which really summed up the problem with Harry Brown – the shock-horror public face is saying 'why oh why?' while the furtive face is trying to appeal to the people it supposedly condemns. The music and film industries have always had a gift for packaging up our squalor and selling it back to us before attempting to retreat to a safe distance.

Since then Drew's career has taken off to the point where his songs are covered on The Voice and he is to be the new Dennis Waterman in the up-coming Sweeney film. Now though he has this very creditable writer/director debut that comes close to being something a bit special.

There is a long and mostly honourable tradition of British film-makers telling the story of the grim life they came from, but the typical British life-in-da-hood flick these days just seems like attempts at expanding their domain of respeck beyond their immediate vicinity. Drew's film though isn't content just to revel in the squalor, it does genuinely aim to make things better.

The manor is south of the river, just past the Olympic Stadium (it or the Dome appear in the backdrop of as many shots as possible). The script crams in tales of gang initiation, drug-dealer revenge and abused prostitutes, all of which interlink and circle back on each other. It's like a Guy Ritchie film but with a heart and a soul and a conscience.

It's a harsh vision but Drew tries to give all his characters some dignity, some depth, even the real lowlifes. Most get a little rap to explain their back story, how they got to be in their dismal circumstances.

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Frustratingly, by the end the story has straightened up to become a conventional melodrama with a climax out of an EastEnders Christmas Day episode but in the middle there is an hour or so of exceptional film-making.


Director: Ben Drew

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Ed Skrein, Natalie Press, Martin Serene, Nick Sagar and Lee Allen

Length: 121 mins