My Brother the Devil (2012), the first feature from director Sally El Hosaini, tells a tale that we have seen before, but with the addition of some controversial and compelling themes she makes a tired genre fresh again. Two teenage brothers, the younger Mo (Fady Elsayed) and the elder Rashid (James Floyd), live in a run-down council estate in Brixton. On a daily basis, they have to contend with gang warfare, drug abuse and the struggle of being young Arabs in modern Britain. Desperate to protect his younger brother, Rashid makes every attempt to keep him from the violent gang he belongs to.
However, when the young and impressionable Mo meets and is employed by photographer Sayyid (Saïd Taghmaoui) he drifts away from the family unit and falls in with the local gang. Often, gangland stories which involve a struggle to survive or rise above your circumstances can feel clichéd. However, My Brother the Devil takes the genre to new territory by exploring the life of a first generation Muslim Egyptian family amidst gangland London. Hosaini tells it with insight, care and consideration which never patronises or becomes preachy. Elsayed and Floyd convincingly portray the relationship between the two brothers, providing a series of touching moments.
Whilst there is no comedy or light relief to speak of, there are moments when the positives of council estate life are explored. Children have a water-pistol fight and families spend time together against the backdrop of a beautifully shot London, captured by cinematographer David Raedeker. Hosaini demonstrates a unique flair for more complicated cinematography that beautifully captures the spirit of the environment. Equally, there are the realistic scenes of underage drinking, violence and drug abuse, but by striking a balance she avoids the despairing tone so often seen in gangland dramas.
The moments of high drama are compelling and emotive, and the moments of raw brutality will cause audible gasps. Hosaini takes the gangland genre one step further by exploring what it is like to be young and gay in a rough and ready tower block. If living as a first generation Brit on a council estate wasn’t hard enough, being gay in a violence-driven, macho culture of drugs, sex and money is even harder. Yet this too is treated with the utmost care and executed with delicate precision.
My Brother the Devil demonstrates Hosaini’s potentially great talent as a director. She has created a compelling drama about the struggle against circumstance, the importance of heritage, and family and its effect on identity, whilst avoiding tiresome tropes and showing a level of care rarely seen in the genre.