From rhyme to soul to cinema, Plan B, aka Ben Drew, is turning into an artist with a conscious and far-reaching talent.
From rhyme to soul
to cinema, Plan B, aka Ben Drew, is turning into an artist with a conscious and
far-reaching talent. If, so far, you’ve failed to pick up on
his well thought out and sincere social commentary, from either his impassioned
speech at the TED/Observer event or from his attention grabbing new record, ill
Manors; his directional debut of the same name will leave you in no doubt as to
what this working-class-boy-done-good has to say.
Made via the Microwave scheme, which also funded the brilliant film Shifty back in 2008, ill Manors shows
there’s a burgeoning film talent beneath Drew’s skin. However, unlike ill
Manors the song, which, as the Guardian recently called it, is ‘the perfect
protest song’ his film doesn’t quite reach the same perfection.
ill Manors opens with an angry woman shouting ‘It’s the parent’s fault,
where are the parents?’ Presumably she’s talking about the time of the riots
when the question was posed, where is your child right now? Absent parents are
a theme that runs throughout the film. But first our mentor, Drew, takes us on
a fast-forward tour of the drug business. Rapping over the action, his lyrics
narrating the story, he’s in his element and it works.
There’s many – too many – characters in ill Manors all inter-looping and
connecting in some way. The main character Aaron (played by the masterful Riz Ahmed) makes his way by selling
drugs with his butch, former children’s home buddy Ed (Ed Skrein). Aaron is the audience’s hope in this murky world. He’s
clearly not a bad soul but he finds himself in difficult situations which he
tries to resolve in the most honest way he can with the people he is dealing
with. From the start our main hope is that Aaron will eventually escape this
jaded underworld that so many don’t.
A LOT happens in ill Manors – Drew clearly has a desire to represent
every disaffected group of society he’s ever come across or heard about. But essentially ill Manors is all about
the secret life of London; forgotten youths and innocents who have been used,
abused and corrupted, left to fend for themselves on the murky, dirty streets
of London, the shady characters you cross the road to avoid. He tries to find
some goodness in all of them – where did they come from? How did they get here,
dying on the cold streets of London? Or, in one prostitute’s case, selling them
self for £20 a pop to the local chicken shop workers. Drew raps their stories;
we get flashbacks to when they were children that are reminiscent of an NSPCC
advert. It puts across his point directly but a more subtle approach would have
Stylistically ill Manors is exciting. He uses 70s inspired split
screens, CCTV footage, river-like reflections, mobile phone footage and gritty
realism, injecting music into the action with precision timing – it’s
undeniably entertaining to watch. However, his passion for his point fails him.
He wants to represent everyone from the boy who’s veneration for the local drug
dealer causes him to be used as his puppet and suffer an ill fate, to the
escaped sex-trafficked immigrant who is living in daily poverty and fear with
her newborn, to the young school girls that are easily corrupted. While you get
to know these characters briefly, focusing on fewer plots and characters and
taking a more in-depth approach would have worked better; he may then have
reached the dizzy heights of something like Nil by Mouth for a younger generation.
Is Forest Hill born Ben Drew a fitting speaker for Britain’s ‘disaffected
youth’ who live on the fringes of society? He admits about his own childhood:
“We weren’t working class but we weren’t middle class, we were in the void
in-between.” He is perhaps at a liminal level, but
it’s clear he knows these people, hanged around them, listened to them and has
an insight on what’s going on or has gone in their lives – it seems he’s their perfect
spokesman. As he said in a recent interview “I genuinely
want to change things…This is just the first step. Let me make my point first
and raise the issue, and then if anybody wants to talk to me about how I think
we can change these things I’m ready.”
ill Manors is enjoyable, affectionate and
if you don’t roll in the kinds of circles he represents, informative. It’s
worth parting with your cash for, though it does work much better in the
musical equivalent. However, if this is what Plan B pulls out the bag for a directorial
debut, then he’s clearly got an eye for film as well as an ear for music, and
if his social message reaches a wider audience through ill Manors then good for
him. Good for everyone.