Kidulthood (Menhaj Huda, 2006)

“I want you to carve a “c” from the corner of him eye to the corner of him mouth.”

Introduction

Written by Noel Clarke, this film built up a cult following pretty soon after release across teenage-boys within London. Obviously, the film is about teenage boys in London. I mentioned this on the Matineecast I have recently guest-spotted on, though I was inspired to watch it by kids at my school constantly going on about it. Hackney-boys I teach seem to praise the film highly and potentially imitate it and at least see their lives in it. Any film that strikes such a chord and an interest within teenagers is worth watching just to see what ‘got them’. Especially when its not an MTV-type film. To my shame, when I was a teenager, I thought Charlies Angels was a good movie. The young fool I was.

From Dr Who to London

The director is nothing special. He wasn’t hired for the sequel – and prior to this all he had directed programmes for BBC and ITV – namely, The Bill and Holby City. Kidulthood was written by Noel Clarke – Clarke had previously written episodes for Dr Who and even played the role of Billie Piper’s boyfriend in the first series of the reboot. I know very little about Dr Who but clearly Clarke utilised his links on that programme to the limit. This single film clearly, not only showcases Clarkes writing ability, but his acting ability. As the supporting-cast, bully/thug character Sam, Clarke creates a character that us Londoners see regularly.

A Day in the Life

The plot is a day in the life of some 15 year olds in West London on the day-off they are given following the suicide of a bullied girl – Katie. The ‘introduction’ to the film, the prologue, shows the final few hours of this girls life. It is harrowing stuff – and as it is set in a school, I am positive that the fear in the teacher towards Sam and Co is a bit much. I know, above all, that the only reason you become a teacher is because you kow how old the children are. Yes, they can be violent and aggressive, but they are all children. Even 15 year-olds are children. Then again, I’m in a school that is pretty new – so maybe I am simply oblivious to the problems in schools that don’t deal with behaviour very well. I could go on about this one aspect all day. Fact of the matter is, the kids get a day-off for a day of mourning towards the gil who commits suicide and it is important to note that most of the kids are apathetic to the girls death. Small conversation topics – a little comment here and there. The three boys are Trife (Aml Ameen), Jay (Adam Deacon) and Moony (Femi Oyeniran) – teenagers who Katie knew (Trife slept with Katie many months before) – while we also follow two girls: Alisa (Red Madrell) and Becky (Jamie Winstone). Alisa finds out pretty soon that she is pregnant – with Trifes child (and she has to somehow tell him over the course of the film whil Becky is a complete whore, giving blow-jobs and having sex with random guys who will give her a little money or drugs. Its a gritty, ensemble teenage-film – showing clear depictions of a rough life of sex, drugs, knife and gun crime. It even touches upon the real underworld. A nice parrellel with the pathetic power-trips the teenagers crave opposed to the seriously-illegal activities of Trifes uncle – an affluent drug-dealer who is clearly involved in every illegal activity in West London.

Think Series 4 of The Wire … in London … without the Poh-leece dynamic

Maybe it is my lack of imagination, but the comparison that first came to mind was the fourth series of The Wire – whereby the focus is upon a group of young teenagers in West Baltimore. Because of this, the inevitable lack-of-scope of Kidulthood is the biggest concern to me. The lack of a clear moral compass was what bugged me – though as a snapshot of London teenagers, it was great. That season of The Wire – like most of The Wire – had a sobering realism that was not positive and showed only a smidgen of hope for these kids – but because of the scope, it showed the reasons why and the limited options available and, more importantly, why the kids couldn’t or wouldn’t choose such options. Think of Randy Wagstaff, the lad who turned to the police during that season – it didn’t pan out and we know every detail as to how he was screwedover.

It tries to show a wider scope and, as mentioned previously, Trife has links via his Uncle Curtis to the criminal underworld (Seen early on as Uncle Curtis asks him to hide his gun) but when Trife gets in too deep (Ordered to cut a ‘C’ from “da eye to da mouth” on a victim of Uncle Curtis) he realises the crimes and runs away from his Uncle. Understanding the true horror of his actions. Ironically, this happens late on in the film – so what about when he was stealing a womans purse? when his buddy Jay robs a corner shop? and then gets aggressive and violent when a cop (mistakenly) thinks he has stolen a hat from a shop? (minutes after his friends did steal alcohol from a shop!) Following this stance in the shop, all three boys run out from a Hackney-cab without paying! They also get into a little fight down an alley – Trife throwing the first punch – following some attitude problem from Jay. At none of these points does he realise what he has done wrong – only when he physically cuts into a victims face – does he realise this. Even in some vain attempt to get a Nintendo DS from Sam’s flat, as they run away, the boys push Sam’s Mum over – putting her in hospital. No-one felt remorse or apologetic about these actions. Only when he cuts a guys face – a guy who was willingly a part of a serious underworld criminal group. I’m not condoning violence, but if one person ‘deserved’ it – more than Sams Mum, Woman in shop, blokes in alley, etc – it was the dude he cut. Or the dude he ‘merc-ed’ as the Kidults would say.

Glorifying Crime

At what point does a film cross the line to glorifying crime, rather than highlighting the issues sensitively? I think the bottom line is I do not think they lads looked good – I felt I was watching a bunch of children with twisted, even corrupted, morals themselves. But then, you have to ask, what do the children at my school – or even most London schools – think? Probably not the same. It tackles issues brielfy – in one instance highlighting racism, as Taxi’s never stop for Moony, a black teenager, forcing him to walk to his friends house … but then, following on from this, the boys catch a taxi, only for Moony to raise the concern “why don’t you even pick me up?” etc and, as the driver is sidetracked, the other boys get out the taxi and then all three run away. Proving the point. The shop without security – a small corner shop – Jay steals beer from, while the shop with security mistakenly thinks a boy wearing a cap of the shops brand has been stolen – and the boys get aggressive and rude for such a mistake. Then again, maybe it forces the kids from schools to dwell on the same contradictions. Thats not a bad thing at all.

[Spoilers] To finish, Trife tells Alisa that he’ll change because he ‘loves her’. He is happy to be a good Father and and a good boyfriend – and he realises his mistakes and will change – for Alisa. Why does he not change for himself? His pride? The image he presents to others of a black-London-teenager – filling the stereotype? Why does he not want to change for his Mother? for his Family? for Society? Oh no – Trife will change ‘for Alisa’. The bigger questions are raised, but I think there is tragedy in how he never realises who he is – rating himself dependent on Alisas feelings for him. What if Alisa, in time, moved on … would Trife go back to his ‘street’ ways?

Inevitably perhaps, the aggression shown towards Sam early on in the film catches up with Trife and his friends – as Sam turns up at a party (starring no other than A Single Man and Skins star Nicholas Hoult) and a fight ensues. Leaving Trife dead in Alisas arms. Is that the comeuppance – akin to the rise-and-fall of James Cagney – ultimately Trife dies. His actions were no unimportant – and they eventually dealt him death.

Bullet Brown Tank

If you like Bullet Boy – a film with a much-clearer moral compass, Harry Brown or Fishtank – gritty, rooted-in-realism, London youth-crime films, then you will enjoy this. Interestingly, I cannot help but think that there is some obvious links to other films – namely The Godfather in the gun-that-needs-to-be-hidden, and potentially Goodfellas in how Liotta, Pesci and De Niro kick -in a very messy way – Frank Vincent, akin to how the Moony, Jay and Trife kick Sam, in a very messy way- even inside Sams mothers house. I wouldn’t be suprised – considering the rise-and-fall arc of lead character Trife. As a snapshot of a way-of-life, it is a incredibly well-written film, but as a moral-stand towards some issues facing teenagers – I am not sure. nothing is clear and my worry would be that the imitations are rooted in the glorification of the characters.

Though I can tell you now, Adulthood seems to have taken this single facet on board and dug a deep hole to plant the moral compass in the sequel that followed Kidulthood two years later…

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6 comments

  1. Was thinking about this film again this morning given that I was listening to your podcast on my morning commute, and just finally saw FISH TANK last night.

    I must try to track this one down and let ya know what I think.

    Great review though – interesting to hear an adult's take on something the kids think is all the rage.

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  3. Hi Simon,

    Having just watched Kidulthood and remembered that you reviewed it some time back I thought I would come and see your take on it.

    I must admit I’m usually a little more in line with your opinions than here. I do not disagree with your points about a confused so called ‘moral compass’ but I far from see this as a failing of the film. I know this is exaggerating a little but it seems a little too close to a kind of Daily Mail opinion or a nanny state point of view that films should have some kind of ‘positive’ impact along with a generally viewed standard of right and wrong (generally viewed by the middle classes). This film tells things how they are, and this is why it resonates so well with the youth, due to its honesty and emotional realism.

    Further to this I don’t see a problem with the boys kicking off in the shop as it was clear that nobody gave them the benefit of the doubt. More importantly the Black cab part I thought was one of the most significant points. It is genuinely morally ambiguous, on the one hand yes, by running from the cab it solidifies the opinion in Black Cab drivers that black adolescent males won’t pay so don’t stop for them. But then when they will never pick you up (and this one wouldn’t have had he not thought it was the girl he was picking up) then the only way they can make a point is by using their consumer power to opt not to pay.

    Trying to ascribe a moral compass is missing the point a little and sounds a bit too much like Cameron’s ‘Broken Britain’ nonsense. For me, the film portrays a true picture of those tensions between adulthood and childhood. That phase where your actions have real consequences but that you can still see the importance of the childish situation of retrieving your Gameboy Advance SP (Tribal edition I may add) from the ‘school bully’.

    As always it is great to hear your views, keep u the good work.

  4. Thanks Mike!

    Glad you watched the film, I am ultimately quite liberal I think in my views towards things but on a social-scale I reckon the simplicity of the characters lets the film down – crime and any issue tackling teenagers today is exceptionally complex and the characters in this are by no means the only representation of kids in inner-city london schools.

    As a 'snap shot' alone, it is really good and I think, as a writer, Clarke is clearly very talented. But as a film kids look up to, as a separate issue, I'm not sure. I think there is a similar argument to 'Borat' whereby as a film, I think its great – I understand he is a plonker and his racism is merely clarifying the plonker within him… but when kids begin to quote lines from Borat and even start insulting Jews and mocking them… well thats just racism isn't it.

    whatever the case, it is an interesting argument and, let me reclarfiy, I think the films are very good but I do think that the influence it may hold on some kids – specifiying how they 'should' act is a concern. I mean, what sells sells, and clearly this type of film is missing in the marketplace … but it would be nice to imagine a film set within the same context, with the same characters but tackling the social-issue on a larger scale rather than a semi-domestic scale story merely representing the characters.

    Simon
    http://www.screeninsight.com

  5. Yeah I guess that is the problem with the length of films; I particularly like your comparison to The Wire and that it has so much more scope because you see every angle of life, rather than this short snapshot.

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