A Way of Life

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This is a terrifically assured debut from south Londoner Asante: her tense and detailed movie offers a discomforting but riveting portrait of backstreet life in modern day, post-industrial south Wales (presumably Swansea but shot in Barry) through the experiences, predominately, of a bunch of teenagers.
Leigh-Anne (Stefanie James) is 17 going on 30. Struggling to bring up a sickly baby alone, she’s growing increasingly fractious, hateful and finally paranoid as the snipings of her neighbours and mother-in-law (Brenda Blethyn), in addition to the intrusions of an overly formal health visitor, make her fear that her baby may be taken into care. She enjoys a fragile support system: brother Gavin (a stand-out performance by Nathan Jones), a repository of hope in the film; in-care Stephen (Dean Wong), himself Pakistani-born; and Robbie (Gary Sheppeard), for whom Leigh-Anne has a soft spot. The film begins with the last three mounting a vicious assault on a Turkish man and backtracks to their lives, reasons and reasonings.

The director’s roots are in TV and it shows, for good and bad. Her screenplay contains the odd cliché, but she has clearly deeply ingested the post-‘Cathy Come Home’ naturalist tradition. What she adds is a throroughly modern understanding of the mechanisms and effects of poverty, prejudice, hopelessness and racism on young (and other) lives. She does wonders, too, with her cast, garnering entirely credible, self-effacing but humanistically rounded performances, not least from James. Staring at the stars at night, one says, ‘It’s like God sneezing’ – another Barry poet in the making?

Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday November 12 2004
Duration: 91 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Amma Asante
Cast: Brenda Blethyn
Michael Conway
Stephanie James
Nathan Jones
Gary Sheppeard
Dean Wong
Sara Gregory
Oliver Haden
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