It took approximately 14 years for actor (and now director) Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje to get his life story made into a film. Amazing considering the depth that it has to it. It is a rather personal story that shows a huge slice of life in London in the 1980s. Though it happened a long time ago the pain is still there – raw and raging. So much so that it drowns out a lot of the smaller moments or more subtle points. We don’t often get an insight into what is going on in anyone’s mind or understand what is behind their actions.That being said the film still will affect everyone who sees it. Hard to watch at times due to some of the subject matter, but always engaging.
The emotion and violence here is all on the surface. Raw and disturbing. The big picture is what Akinnuoye-Agbaje goes for here. Nothing subtle happens. As such some of the characters don’t rise above the caricature state. Others like Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s Ms. Dapo just don’t get enough screen time. Hers was a character that could have stood for more story time.
During the 1960s to 1980s in the UK thousands of Nigerian children were fostered out by their parents to white middle class families. This process was crudely called “farming”. Because they are struggling to study to become doctors, Femi (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje – Suicide Squad, Concussion) and Tolu (Genevieve Nnaji) make the tough decision to foster their young son out. Enitan is taken into foster care by Ingrid Carpenter (Kate Beckinsale – Underworld, Love & Friendship) and her husband (Lee Ross – Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The English Patient), who have taken in quite a few Nigerian children. Residing in Tilsbury with six other Nigerian children, the sensitive and befuddled Enitan kind of gets lost in the shuffle of the jam packed household.
Worse is the bullying he undergoes. He is physically attacked by his neighbours and schoolmates, has stones thrown at him and is attacked by a dog. All his foster father tells him is that he has to learn to fight to defend himself. This is something that is going to stay with him for a long time. The bullying and fighting continues into high school.
Enitan (Damson Idris – The Commuter) feels like he does not belong anywhere. This leads to him seeking a sort of family within a group of white skinheads led by the sociopath Levi (John Dagleish – Justice League, The Monuments Men). Despite the fact that they are racist and treat him poorly, Enitan feels like he finally belongs somewhere.
Racism is something that touches the life of every person of colour. Adewale is no exception. Due to his displacement from his family to a very white society where he stood out like a sore thumb resulted in him not fitting in anywhere and ending up hating the colour of his skin. It is in these moments in which Adewale the story teller makes his mark. Especially visually. The scenes involving him hating his skin colour or being physically assaulted are the most visually arresting and hard to watch. Adewale certainly does not pull any punches in these moments.
Besides Akinnuoye-Agbaje announcing himself as a director to watch, Damson Idris, in a tough role, demonstrates himself as a young actor who has a bright future. Nothing about this role was easy. Physically and emotionally it must have been draining. Idris is up to the task of carrying a film on his shoulders.
This is a very particular coming of age story, told at the right time. This is a time in which diverse voices are being allowed out of the shadows. Voices (and faces) we have not previously seen are now represented in films. Identity is a large part of this film and something that societies around the world are struggling with. Adewale adds his story to what hopefully will become a very wide mosaic.