A fitting end to a solid British trilogy
10 years have passed since ‘Kidulthood‘ appeared and took many by surprise. The film followed the day in a life of a group of troubled 15-year-olds and showed a version of West London that Richard Curtis et al. had previously ignored. It was a harrowing look at a London many teens face – one that is seemingly lawless and uncompromisingly bleak. It was followed up by a sequel in 2008, ‘Adulthood‘, which was written and directed by it’s lead Noel Clarke. And now we have the end of his character Sam Peel’s journey. Again written/directed/starring Noel Clarke it is a mature and worthy closing chapter of truly thought-provoking series.
Sam Peel (Clarke) is now a married father of two. He works four different jobs to support his family whom he loves dearly and for the most part his past self is exactly that – in the past. After a family member is attacked it soon becomes clear that it was done only to get Sam’s attention and to hurt him. Those who organised the attack – modern gangster Daley (Maza), his sidekick HUGS (Alexander) and their crew – are determined to destroy the life Sam has created for himself.
‘Kidulthood‘ was fantastic at showcasing a London few of us see, even those for us who live in it, yet many of our young people face on daily basis. It portrayed gang life and the ripple-effect consequences it can have on so many. With ‘Brotherhood’ we have an adult piece of filmmaking – or, as Clarke coined it in the Q&A which followed the screening, his ‘graduation film’. For both Clarke and his on-screen counterpart this film showcases a transition into a world that is bigger and badder. Clarke’s direction and script is filled with enough spark and life to make film that is regularly potent and powerful. It may be less ‘street’ that the previous two movies but this reflects the changes that have happened to the character. Sam now has a reason to live but also a reason to be a new person, even though the threat he is facing is determined to force him back into the past.
Where Clarke really needs to be commended is for mediating on the issue of how teens can be taken off the path of destruction. Whilst the previous two films focused on the intricacies when trapped in this world this, the final film, looks at how to stay out of this world. It’s almost as if Clarke exchanged the anger the prior two films reflected for something deeper and more reflective. This is an aspect that is epitomised during a discussion between Henry (Arnold Oceng) and Yardz (Stormzy in his feature debut). The sequence is quite literally life-or-death yet Henry manages to establish that Yardz is stuck on a path he doesn’t really want to be on. He wants to write comic books.
For some this scene – as Clarke admitted during the Q&A – may seem ludicrous or unbelievable. Yet, for this writer who works at a school in East London, it was heart-breakingly real. Having had simillar conversations with students (albeit without weapons or threat to my life being involved!) it felt hugely important to see Clarke highlighting such a reality. It would be easy to just show Yardz as a villain with a tracksuit and weapon. Clarke shows him to be a teen with a dream in need of a break.
It ends up being an optimistic moment which is needed considering the high level of wince-inducing violence within the film along with the pantomime-esque villains. There’s also the representation of women which is less successful than its representation of adolescent men. The women who appear in this world are all, to varying extents, at the will of the men. There’s also a lot of nudity, and some offensively fake breasts, which becomes almost pantomime in ridiculousness. It could be interpreted as being reflective of this world – that this is how women are viewed by the villains of this realm. And yet, considering some of the female roles of the previous two films, it’s bittersweet to see such awful attitudes to towards women only being solitarily called out by a female gang member.
There’s lots to see here and lots to reflect upon too. It’s a thoughtful and reverent conclusion on the realities of inner-London life. And, if that doesn’t draw you in, there’s an excellent running gag which is clubcard meets gallows humour. It’s the final chapter for Sam Peel and ultimately it’s a fitting one.
Dir: Noel Clarke
Country: UK Year: 2016 Run time: 105 minutes
Brotherhood is in UK cinemas now.