As I’m writing this blog post on the train, a muffled woman’s voice is just about audible over the speakers- ‘Welcome to Stratford, home of the 2012 Olympic venues.’ Just two short stops later we arrive at Forest Gate, the setting for Plan B’s new film and my home. If, unlike me, you didn’t rush out on Wednesday evening to see Ill Manors then make sure you go. It’s sexy, fast paced, and frankly messed up. The sound track is awesome, the content is harrowing and the characters are genuine.
Last night in the cinema as images of my home flashed up on the big screen, I felt oddly vulnerable. What was the audience about to see of the area I know and love? These shops, these streets, these issues don’t get screened often, if ever. At first, I had to control the urge to keep saying ‘that’s my road’, ‘my doctors’, ‘my school’, ‘the local pub’. As the characters developed I began to recognise them as well, my class mates, my fellow youth club members, my neighbours, my constituents. As one character describes them, ‘poster boys for David Cameron’s broken Britain’.
I presume the title, Ill Manors, comes from David Cameron’s assertion last year that parts of our society are not just broken but sick. Sick society, aka, ill manors. The movie takes the audience on a journey through the lives of some residents of Forest Gate. Lives filled with guns, knives, prostitutes, drugs, love, death. Yes it is harrowing, and gut wrenching, but not surprising. For me, it didn’t come across as trying to exaggerate reality, and it’s acceptance of this way of life is exactly what is so unnerving and uncomfortable about it.
I live and grew up in Forest Gate, it’s my home. I’m a governor at Forest Gate Secondary School and represent Forest Gate North as their local Labour Councillor. Do I think that this movie is a fair portrayal of the average life of a Forest Gate resident? No, but it isn’t meant to be. Is it a fair portrayal of some of the lives in Forest Gate? Sure. Does that have broader socio-political implications that we need to debate? Definitely. But let’s not get carried away. It doesn’t need the middle classes intensifying or glorifying it. But reading through the reviews it has created such interest on the left because the left is full of people who care, deeply care, about places like Forest Gate, and the issues that people face there, but equally the left is starved of people who actually get it. Those who live there, grew up there, experience this daily, and are in a position to articulate it are hard to come by. Ben Drew (AKA Plan B) offers that. It isn’t an academic sociological insight so let’s stop pretending it is, and it certainly doesn’t pretend to offer a solution. It is a remarkable observation of a world from a few of those who have lived it, so that others who will never experienced it can gain an understanding.
It isn’t important because huge swathes of society are affected by these issues, it is a very small slice of life, an authentic picture of a minority bought up in a destructive lifestyle. It’s important because this is where the issues hit hardest. The issues surrounding so called chavs, scroungers, and immigrants are all played out here. The effects of the numerous cuts and benefits changes are being felt here. This is where it hurts, and where it has a lasting effect on society.
Decide for yourself if it is the ‘greatest protest movie of our time’, or just a romanticised, over exaggerated, gangster film. Go and see it. Take your MP. Gasp, laugh, cry, take it in. If we must take something more from it, maybe it could be leaving the cinema committed to building a new generation of working class MPs. Realistically they aren’t going to be the crack whores or drug dealers portrayed in the film but they will at least get it. They will get what the Welfare Reform Bill means because it directly affects their family. They will understand the Legal Aid Bill because it affects their neighbours, and they will see the benefit cap impacting on not just the people but the society that surrounds them. That is what the country desperately needs in order to crack some of our most complex problems and support the most vulnerable, MPs who understand and are seriously committed to representing our ill manors.