UK singer/songwriter and rapper Ben Drew (aka Plan B) establishes himself as a director with his cinema debut iLL Manors – a harrowing portrayal of inner city life that showcases the hardships of growing up on the rough council estates of East London.
iLL Manors is ultimately a contemporary tale of crime and gang culture which shows the effects it has on the fragile youths ensnared by it. The film offers the audience such stark realism that at times it makes for uncomfortable viewing. With a stunning peformance from Brit actor Riz Ahmed as troubled youth Aaron, a young man caught up in the turmoil of drug and gang life, the brutality of London’s street culture is illustrated. As a central character to the plot Ahmed is perfect as Aaron, he shows the dilemna of wanting to survive in a gang ruled environment whilst striving for autonomy and acceptance.
The film is accompanied by a raw soundtrack that narrates the scenes, all written and composed by Ben Drew. Through the gritty soundtrack and bleak depiction of life lived outside the law, Drew acts as a social commentator. Having grown up in the area in which the movie is set, Drew draws from some of his own experiences in communicating the reality of life for those involved in gangs and drug dealing. Through the use of real life locations (one of the scenes was filmed in an actual crack den) and locals of the area as cast, the film spares no effort in conveying reality. The plot has several minor characters each with their own back story, all managing to link in with one another in an interwoven narrative. From the immigrant prostitute to the ageing drug lord, each character reveals a different perspective on the issue of crime.
Political comment is undoubtedly present in this film; it is evident that Drew feels a certain amount of hostility towards the British government. The official track for the film which goes by the same title shows a definite disgust towards the government’s “abandonment” of London’s youth and confronts the 2011 London riots. Lyrics like “We’ve had it with you politicians” and “Do what Boris does, rob them blind” express a clear anti-government mentality. The reasons behind this can arguably be deciphered through events in the film.
Overall, Drew’s debut as a film maker is nothing short of astonishing. He manages to incorporate his talents as a musician and director through this raw, truthful tale of survival on the streets. Drew offers a new perspective on the issue of crime in London, instead of glorifying it he forces the audience to question why our so called “Broken Britain” is the way it is. As a narrator to the movie, Drew is incredibly authentic. It is evident through the blunt lyrics of the accompanying music and the crudeness of the dialogue that Drew has not only lived amongst the hardships that are presented, he has been involved first hand.