Every once in a while, along comes a film that causes an almighty stink. Usually it contains scenes of teenagers toying with sex, violence or drugs against a landscape that adults find alarmingly alien. Kidulthood ticks all of the aforementioned boxes in outrageously fluorescent spray-paint, and has an acid wit and a gutter vernacular straight from the back of a number 52 bus. But what we see is nothing new. The film is about teenagers and shows what some teenagers have always done.
"There is nothing in this film that is not based on reality and that isn't happening already," says the writer and co-star Noel Clarke. "And we will stand by that. What you see is in the newspapers every day! It's constant. When I was writing the script I was collecting at least three or four articles a week about teenagers getting up to bad stuff, and I did that for a whole year; it goes on right under our noses... a lot of people might see the film as controversial, but I wanted to make something as true to life as possible"
Clarke knows what he is talking about. He grew up in a small council flat with his mother in London's Ladbroke Grove, exactly where the film is located. "Trife, the main character of the film," says Clarke, "well, his bedroom in the film was actually my bedroom when I used to live with my mum in that block of flats, and the character Sam, the school bully, who I play, is based on a guy who tried to bully my friend at school. It's all real, man!"
The film follows three 15-year-old schoolfriends - Trife (Aml Ameen), Jay (Adam Deacon) and Moony (Femi Oyeniran) - as they go about their everyday business of beatings in the classroom, sex on the playing field, and drugs in the schoolyard - until school is cancelled due to the suicide of the tall, pretty and relatively posh, Katie (Rebecca Martin). All three boys, certainly not children but definitely not adults, are in teenage limbo and Trife, in particular, suffers. Tempted into the gangster lifestyle by his homicidal Yardie drug-dealing uncle, he discovers that his girlfriend Alisa (Red Madrell) has slept with someone else, while she not only realises that she is pregnant but finds that her best friend Becky (Jamie Winstone) is regularly swapping blowjobs for bags of coke and handfuls of E.
"I think the film is a true reflection of inner-city life for a lot of young people," says Floetic Lara, a youth worker and young people's representative for Lambeth local authority. "It touches on some very prominent issues without trying to pretty them up. The storyline might be a bit shocking for some but, unfortunately, it is very real."
Fuelled by a 100 per cent Brit soundtrack courtesy of The Streets, Dizzee Rascal, Roots Manuva, and Audio Bullys, the film rolls along at a cracking pace with effortless performances from a largely unknown, but thoroughly multicultural, cast. "The British film industry doesn't make films about this generation," says the film's director, Menhaj Huda. "I live in west London and I see these kids and they are different from previous generations, they talk different, walk different and listen to different music, and this film really represents them. This isn't the Richard Curtis W11, this is real."
To get such a film made was not a stroll in the park. The director explains: "After initial interest from FilmFour and the UK Film Council, who hold the purse-strings for the Lottery Fund, we were left to find funding ourselves," recalls Huda, who eventually remortgaged his flat in Los Angeles to get the film on the road."And, once the film was made, neither Edinburgh or the London Film Festival would show it," he adds, bitterly. "I think that even though you might not like what this film is saying, it is well-made and well-acted and it should have been shown at the LFF as it is the most London film there is, but they all turned their noses up at it."
"I think the reason for some of the hostility is that a lot of parents don't want to think that their child might be behaving like this," say Clarke. "It makes them feel really uncomfortable, but this is just one day in three kids' lives - a particularly bad day."
Another perplexing aspect of the film for many adults might be the way that it deals with the older generation. Entirely marginalised, the rarely-glimpsed adults are on the periphery and seen as strange, antediluvian creatures whose clothing, attitudes and opinions are quietly gathering dust in the corner.
"Teenagers live in their own little bubble and what is so disconcerting is that this world is so extreme and so different from the older generations," says the 19-year-old Jamie Winstone, the daughter of Ray, whose film Scum caused a similar furore more than 27 years ago. "Even since I was in school everything has changed and accelerated so fast. It's mad. Now teenage girls buy magazines with the sexual position of the week across the pages, at a time when their bodies are changing and they are discovering what their bodies can get them.
"My character is basically prostituting herself, and thinks she is four steps ahead when basically she is four steps behind, and as a result ends up a sad case as no one will touch her."
An immensely moral tale, Kidulthood will open the eyes of many and close the ears of some. "I think it's quality," says my 16-year-old nephew and Ladbroke Grove resident, Louis Seresin. "At last there's a film that shows how it is. I think they should show it in schools right now. It's standard, man."
'Kidulthood' opens todayReuse content