Rescuing south London’s estates from grim hoodies-with-handguns depictions, this British drama is a compassionate and timely look at life as a British-Nigerian foster kid coming up the hard way. It’s exceptionally well-crafted by south Londoner Shola Amoo and loosely based on the writer-director’s own younger years.
That kid – Femi – is played by newcomers Tai Golding (younger) and Sam Adewunmi (older), and both actors are real finds. Adewunmi brings an edgy blend of defiance and solitude, even as Femi mucks about with his mates, makes awkward overtures to a fellow student (Ruthxjiah Bellenea) or tries to wriggle out from under the spell of a petty gangster (Demmy Ladipo). There’s a real sense of a teenaged boy unmoored as he’s moved from a foster home in Lincolnshire to London and the film transitions stylishly through new schools, new homes and even a burst of New Order – one of the few clues as to the film’s mainly ’90s setting.
Even when things stray into the familiar terrain of intimidating tower blocks and impromptu beatings, Amoo and his cinematographer Stil Williams keep the visuals fresh. Nocturnal estates glow red like Dante’s underworld, and there’s real power when Femi threatens his teacher in a washed-out classroom.
As with his debut feature ‘A Moving Image’, a spikily insightful look at gentrification in Brixton, Amoo is always looking to subvert lazy cultural assumptions (there’s a nice throwaway moment when Femi gets caught by his mates listening to The Cure and hastily pretends it’s Tupac) and give us a different London to look at. On this evidence, his canvas may be about to get even bigger.