Plan B's Ill Manors: Mean streets at the movies

The rapper-come-director's new film explores the urban tensions that led to last summer's riots – and he's not the only one finding cinematic inspiration in social unrest

Plan B's debut feature Ill Manors (which premiered in London last night) was conceived long before last summer's London riots. Nonetheless, it is one of a number of recent films that have looked at social deprivation and urban unrest on screen. Given the upheaval around the world, with protesters taking to the streets everywhere from Greece to Egypt, it is understandable that filmmakers are trying to capture the anger of the disenfranchised. For the first time since the aftermath of the riots in Paris in 1968, there is evidence that cinema – and music, if the new riots-inspired video for Jay-Z and Kanye West's song "No Church In The Wild" is anything to go by – is taking to the barricades.

The films that are being made are often as inchoate as the events that inspire them. The anger that runs through them is apparent. More questionable is what they hope to achieve. Some are polemical, some are high-testosterone action films, some are grimly realist dramas... and there are even one or two comedies.

Egyptian actor-filmmaker Amr Waked (recently in Salmon Fishing In The Yemen) has just completed a movie about the events leading up to the Egyptian revolution. When he embarked on the project, it was called R For Revolution and was shot through with a sense of optimism and idealism. A year on, he has retitled the film to Winter Of Discontent to reflect, he says, the "dark turn" the revolution has taken.

On a lighter (albeit still macabre note) note, British writer-director Stuart Urban, best known for Our Friends in the North, recently finished May I Kill U?, a very dark comedy set against the backdrop of the London riots. Baz (Barry Vartis), a well-meaning cycle cop, suffers head injuries as the unrest breaks out in London. These injuries change his personality, turning him from a genial PC Dixon type into a psychopathic vigilante who administers his own brand of murderous justice to looters and criminals. He records the killings on helmet cam and then posts them online, inevitably building up a huge following.

Ill Manors is far darker in tone. Its characters are dealers, crack addicts and street thugs in Forest Gate, east London. There are some horrendously grim moments – the prostitute led from kebab shop to kebab shop to sell her body and pay off a drug debt, the doe-eyed teenager mistakenly killed, the kids in the playground encouraged to beat up their mates. In interviews, Ben Drew has insisted the film is simply showing the reality of a Britain in which the underclass has been demonised.

From the Dead End Kids to Robert De Niro in Mean Streets, filmmakers have long been drawn to telling the stories of socially deprived delinquents. French filmmaker Mathieu Kassovitz tackled similar themes in La Haine (1995), about three friends in the banlieue of Paris, dealing with racism and police brutality. The decision to screen it earlier this month in Tottenham, the area of London where last year's riots kicked off after the death of Mark Duggan, reveals that the film has lost none of its relevance in the last 17 years.

Some of these films have been excellent. However, it is not at all easy for filmmakers to portray urban unrest. If they're too polemical, they're accused of preaching. If their protagonists are charismatic, they risk being accused of glamorising violence. If they're too downbeat, their movies will be shunned. What is clear, though, is that if the street unrest continues, so will the movies that draw on it.

Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit