Blue Story: A South Side Love Story

Star Rating: ****
Director and Writer: Rapman (Andrew Onwubulo)
Review date: 16th November 2019
Producers: Damian Jones and Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor
Executive Producers: Rose Garnett, Paul Grindey, Eva Yates, Charles Moore and Andrew Onwubolu (Rapman)
Starring: Stephen Odubola and Micheal Ward
Production: BBC Films, DJ Films, Joi Productions and Paramount Pictures UK
Distributer: Paramount Pictures UK
Classification Rating: (15) 91 minutes
Released: 2019

Blue Story tells the story of school friends and best mates Timmy (Stephen Odubola) and Marco (Micheal Ward, ‘Top Boy’) who had nothing to do with local gangs, but find themselves on opposing sides of an escalating, vicious, deadly gang rivalry. Both are from the neighbouring South East London boroughs of Peckham and Lewisham. They’re proximity resulted in them attending the same school. However things take a turn when Timmy is set upon by a gang including some with links to Marco.

In a very illogical, Othellian way, logic is booted right out of the park and Timmy finds it impossible to believe that his best friend Marco had nothing to do with the attack and is hell bent on getting revenge against his perpetrators. The viewer is taken on a journey that will see if their friendship will stand this testing incident or be jettisoned in the name of gang affiliation and keenly fought post code wars.

Despite the public perception of the movie and the impression given by the official trailer, Blue Story is effectively a South Side love story wrapped up in a gangster rap and street warfare that owes a lot more to West Side Story than Goodfellas, sharing timeless themes of friendship, love (romantic and brotherly) and gang rivalry. The face hiding black bandana is as ubiquitous as the numerous gang members. It’s the de rigueur clothing item of choice in this urban, gangland drama. Blue Story is a gripping, edgy, fascinating story with many of the relationships between characters very well portrayed and developed; the best friends, the friendships between their group of friends, those friendships and connections with tensions linking people from opposing ‘endz.’ This brings trouble where lines are blurred between genuine personal connections and what are effectively meaningless “postcode wars” but which in the interests of survival on the streets, carry serious weight and necessitates that some young people can’t be friends with those from rival postcodes. As one character memorably says when denouncing the frutility and stupidity of such gang rivalry: “You are fighting for a postcode you don’t even own.”

Blue Story is Director/Screenwriter Rapman’s (Andrew Onwubulo) debut feature film. It’s a well earned progression from his successful and hugely popular Shiro’s Story; a three-part YouTube series that explored the world of rap music, drugs and violence. It has had an incredible 20 million views to date, which will no doubt increase as those previously unaware of it go and catch up with the trilogy.

One pivotal storyline is that of the blossoming relationship between Marco and Leah, which was very well acted by Micheal Ward and Karla Simone-Spence. Their relationship is tested by the conflict between Timmy & Marco with deadly consequences.

Thanks to the excellent story and plot lines, convincing and authentic acting of lead characters such as Marco and Timmy and many others, it is an engrossing film. Although it’s not always a pleasant watch (and nor is it meant to be), that’s not just down to the brutal violence, but the aggressive language too. With regards to the later I can see why it’s in there, though I feel the messages could have been conveyed in equally harsh but less profane ways.

Marco (Micheal Ward) & Leah (Karla Simone-Spence)

I found it interesting that the mother of two of the key characters seemed blissfully unaware of the dangerous and illegal activities of her sons. Lesson #1 in the startlingly obvious – mothers and fathers must make it their business to know where their children are and who they are hanging around with. That is their parental duty and responsibility. No one else’s. The father’s in this case were not around, which is often significant, particularly when boys are going off the rails. I think any analysis of the problem with youths, men in gangs has to highlight the critically important role of the father or male role model/father figure.

Blue Story is a brilliantly told film with humour, love, aggression, violence, youthful boisterousness and a storyline that keeps you totally immersed and engaged from start to finish. The interjecting between key scenes of Rapman’s rapping was a novel, most welcome Shakespearean innovation. I loved the party scenes, the lively, noisy, night bus banter and goings on, plus seeing different areas of London on screen aside from the usual well known film set/tourist locations. There’s even the added bonus of a scene stealing cameo (party) from a well known comedian.

The film clearly highlights the gang lifestyle lived by some young people on the streets of London. Although it’s a London story, it is by no means unique to the capital and could have been set anywhere where gang rivalry exists.

The film is a terrific watch and a real eye opener for the many for whom this life is far removed from their own experience. For the critics who’ve been suggesting otherwise (most likely those yet to watch the film), this movie actually does precious little to glamorise the gangster lifestyle. However I do accept that for a significant minority, they will be undeterred, having weighed up that it is their best way forward to survive.

There was of course a lot of well documented controversy during its first week of opening from 22nd November 2019, with Vue Cinema’s reporting ‘25 significant incidents in 16 cinemas within 24 hours of opening’ resulting in it being banned in all 91 of its UK wide cinemas (60 had been showing it) between 25th – 28th November. Vue Cinema’s stated: “This decision is not, as some have alleged, based on biased assumptions or concern about the content of the film itself. At Vue, we believe passionately in bringing people together and using the power of the big screen experience to entertain, educate and inspire all of our audiences. Blue Story is a fantastic film and one with a very powerful message. It is a film that has the opportunity to change lives. We hope that Blue Story achieves the success it deserves and importantly its message does not get lost.”

On 27th November 2019 (within an hour of Tiemo Talk of the Town seeing the movie and giving it the thumbs up on social media … #JustSaying!) the chain lifted its ban on the proviso that security would be increased at Vue cinemas. Whilst I have no reason or evidence to doubt their stated reason, it’s of interest that to date they have not elaborated on these 25 incidents and I’m only aware of one reference (on social media) to an incident in Plymouth Vue on 23rd November 2019. No others have been reported in the mainstream media or social media as far as I’m aware which is very surprising in this day and age when people would be quick to tweet or Face book any disturbances.

Many people vociferously complained and campaigned on social media and elsewhere for the ban to be overturned citing the unfairness of this decision when it wasn’t considered to be the fault of the film or even the genre of the film. Some went further. Maryvn Harrison, founder of the Dope Black Dads podcast (Black Fathers movement) wrote directly to Vue Cinema. His letter and the public campaign succeeded. Vue listened and re-released the film in it’s venue’s last Friday 29th November 2019.

Despite the initial ban the film’s done exceptionally well for an independent production, grossing £1.3 million in its first week-end, making it the #3 most popular film, behind only ‘Last Christmas’ which took £2.2m and Frozen II which took a stonking £15.3m! Blue Story broke records for the most any British ‘urban’ film has made in that space of time. By the end of it’s second week-end it had more than doubled its box office takings to £2.9m.

Many flinched at the thought of ‘yet another gangster film.’ I admit I was one, but I have to say having now watched the film, this one’s different and really has the potential to be a game changer, one that can positively change lives for the better. It’s undoubtedly aimed at a certain demographic, 15 – 20 something’s, but its appeal is likely to be far broader.

Blue Story has a very serious and important message that needs to be heard by those involved in gangs, those wanting to understand how and why gangs exists, plus, without a doubt, those tasked with solving this and the wider socio-economic issues associated with gangs and communities from which members are drawn.

You see that a number of characters don’t really want to get involved but for understandable reasons, including persuasive peer pressure, find themselves drawn in to a life they know probably won’t end well. The film depicts how hard it can be to get out once caught up in the line of fire or even just because of where you happen to live, which as a schoolchild, they have absolutely no say in.

I would also add that it’s not just adults, politicians, who have a responsibility for tackling the problem. I think older school children (girls and boys) do too. They have a particular role and responsibility if their peers are involved or hanging with the “wrong crowd” which makes them susceptible to joining gangs. That might of course be far easier said than done, but they’re quite likely to be more influential than well meaning adults, authority figures, trying to step in and solve the issue once it’s become a criminal problem.

Whilst I, like many, would love to see a wider representation of more positive, less negatively stereotypical Black British lives on screen – think of Venus v Mars, Sunny D, Baby Father, All About the McKenzie’s, At Home with the Adebanjos, Black-ish (USA) – to name but a few hit shows, that’s another debate altogether. For now, for the reasons outlined above I strongly feel that Blue Story is such an important, superbly told story of our times, that it deserves to be a hit movie, not only in the UK, but internationally where violent, deadly gang warfare is a serious, criminal issue that needs tackling and defeating. Far too many lives are being lost and numerous communities have been blighted because it hasn’t been successfully tackled.

Love Story is not just another gangster film. It’s a South Side Love Story that packs a powerful message.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town

Links:

  1. Shiro’s Story – 2018
  2. Dope Black Dads podcast
  3. Yardie – Tiemo review – 3rd September 2018
  4. Residential Movie: The Only Way Out Is In – Tiemo review – 24th September 2016
  5. Legend – The Krays – Tiemo review – 8th September 2015
  6. Ghetta Life – Tiemo review – 15th September 2012

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