Ben Drew, aka British rapper Plan B, has decided to turn his hand to direction in social realist drama come hip-hop opera Ill Manors (2012). With his debut film, Drew demonstrates great skill in weaving together a series of narratives surrounding a group of men and women in London’s Forest Gate area over a period of seven days. The stories cover a great deal of ground ranging from illegal immigrants forced into prostitution and drug addiction to gangland violence and youth crime.
Drew, who also wrote the script and lyrics to the songs featured, has done an excellent job of creating and holding together a complex narrative that examines firstly how each character is affected and influenced by their environment, and secondly how the decisions they each make ripple across different lives. Each story is accompanied with a narrative ‘track’ by Drew himself. For some audiences the music may sit uncomfortably with their tastes, yet the quality of the narrative and the performances should be more than enough to satisfy most.
The running concept that we are all products of our environments has been carefully considered and stresses the point (as seen in the trailer) that “some environments are more hostile than other.” With Ill Manors, Drew fearlessly depicts all the grime and dirt of the more problematic aspects of inner-city life. Whilst all the stories entertain, some stand out more than others – particularly one involving Ed (Ed Skrein), a local drug dealer who forces a drug-addled prostitute into repaying her debt by walking her around a series of takeaways to have sex with the staff for £20 a time.
This ugly and disturbing story is shown with complexity, presenting Ed as a brutal, uncaring product of his surrounding whilst Riz Ahmed’s Aaron stands by as a moral counter-point who attempts to intervene in this despicable act. Whilst there is no central character in Ill Manors exactly Ahmed’s Aaron takes what could loosely be described as centre stage and demonstrates a great deal of skill capturing a character who whilst living a life full of crime is never morally comfortable with his lot.
With Ill Manors, Drew has certainly proven himself a talented director with bags of potential, who – with his debut film – has managed to paint a gripping, vivid and starkly realistic portrait of inner-city London life.