VOD film review: A Brixton Tale
Script and direction4
Matthew Turner | On 20, Oct 2021
Director: Darragh Carey, Bertrand Desrochers
Cast: Lily Newmark, Ola Orebiyi, Jaime Winstone, Craige Middleburg, Barney Harris
Where to watch A Brixton Tale online in the UK: BFI Player / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store / CHILI
Co-directed by Darragh Carey (who also co-wrote the script) and Bertrand Desrochers, this low-budget British drama stars Lily Newmark (Pincushion) as middle-class teen Leah, an aspiring filmmaker who spends her time covertly filming various characters on the streets of Brixton, including charismatic Benji (Ola Orebiyi) and his chaotic friend, Archie (Craig Middleburg). When Benji eventually spots Leah, the pair spark a connection and begin seeing each other, but their relationship quickly exposes the differences between them in terms of wealth and privilege.
Things get more complicated when Leah’s art gallery-owning aunt Tilda (a miscast Jamie Winstone) views her footage of the pair mucking about and urges her to make a more “authentic”, gritty film with Benji the sole subject. Meanwhile, trouble rears its head when Benji’s shadier associates take a strong dislike to Leah and he, in turn, clashes with her obnoxious ex-boyfriend at a party.
The film is anchored by a strong central performance from relative newcomer Orebiyi, who brings soulful sensitivity and nuance to Benji, in stark, painful contrast to the stereotype Tilda wants from Leah’s documentary. Lily Newmark does her best with Leah (she has a nice line in doe-eyed faux-innocence), but her underwritten character isn’t afforded nearly as much depth as Benji and fails to convince as a result.
There are some strong ideas in the script, revolving around perceived assumptions, identity construction and the manipulation of images, but the way those themes play out feels too contrived and is ultimately unsatisfying. The film is on stronger ground when it’s attacking middle-class privilege and the contrast between having to fight for everything and having everything handed to you.
Carey and Desrochers do pull off their key scenes – most notably a terrific sequence when Benji attends the showing of Leah’s work at a glitzy gallery event and both he and the audience feel the weight of everyone looking at him and judging him. The sequence plays out as a close-up on his face and it’s easily the best scene in the film.
The film also benefits from some recognisable Brixton location work (it was mostly shot around Barrier Block and the Somerleyton Estate), giving the whole thing an authentic South London atmosphere. In short, A Brixton Tale has its fair share of flaws, but it’s ultimately worth seeing for Orebiyi’s assured performance (we will almost certainly be seeing him again) and its strong sense of place.