One Olympic City, Two Different Worlds
On June 12, 2012, 1:46 PM by Rosie Spinks
As the cosmopolitan capital readies itself for the Olympics, one film-maker presents a different city.
Of the London sights and landmarks highlighted during Olympic television coverage this summer, the council estates of East London are not likely to be among them.
However, in the new BBC film Ill Manors, written and directed by platinum-selling British rapper Plan B (Ben Drew) and released in the United Kingdom last week, these blocks of government-subsidized housing are the primary setting for a grim and often unseen view of England’s cosmopolitan capital city.
Made with a budget of just £100,000 and featuring a cast of mostly unknown actors, the majority of the movie’s scenes were filmed in under 20 days. Reviews have been mixed. The founder of Kids Company, a London-based charity for vulnerable youth, described it as “an incredibly accurate portrayal of that kind of environment.” Others have called it “hard to watch.”
In one of the most poignant scenes in the film, Aaron, the main character, stares across the canal at East London’s Olympic park as it glitters in the night sky. This shimmering sight, however, is not the London in which Aaron lives. Taking place in dingy bedrooms, fried chicken shops, crusty pubs and seedy undersides of railway bridges, the council estates are not an area any tourist would ever want to visit. In Aaron’s London, there are no multi-million dollar stadiums; there is no large urban shopping mall. These two worlds, despite their proximity, have nothing to do with one another.
An uncomfortable reminder of the disparity between glowing appearances and harsh realities will occur again during the Olympics this August, with the one year anniversary of the London riots. It remains to be seen how the international media will treat this milestone, but it’s unlikely that much attention will be given to it. After all, international sporting events with dozens of corporate sponsors aren’t the best time to bring up issues of poverty and deep-seated economic inequalities manifest within the host city.
But ignoring the anniversary won’t change the fact that those three days of unrest last summer—-which caught London law enforcement completely off-guard and spread to other major UK cities overnight—-seemed to tug at the moral fiber of Britain and raise questions to which no member of Parliament could provide answers.
As footage of torched store-fronts, looting pre-teens, and outraged citizens were plastered over newspapers and looped on the BBC in the days and weeks that followed the riots, the overriding questions were the following: Who are these morally depraved young Britons? And what makes them think they can act this way?
With its frank depictions of the prostitution, violence, drug use, gang-culture and lack of opportunity that are endemic to housing estates, this film appears to be Plan B’s artistic attempt to answer those questions.
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