Blue Story (2019)A gut-wrenchingly brutal spotlight on south London’s postcode gang rivalries, Blue Story grabs you and won’t let you look away. Rapman’s (Andrew Onwubolu) big screen directorial debut packs a punch with its unflinching message on youth violence, telling the audience that every 14 minutes there is another knife crime in England and Wales.
The core message of the filmis aimed at young people themselves: violence is a cycle that must be recognised and broken.
Blue Story follows best friends Timmy (Stephen Odubola) and Marco (Micheal Ward), who live on different sides of a postcode war. Growing up in the midst of gang rivalries, their relationship is torn apart after Marco is attacked by one of Timmy’s old friends.
The film begins at a time of change, showing Timmy entering secondary school. Timmy’s mum sends him away from Deptford to a school in the neighbouring borough of Peckham, where he meets local boy Marco. This echoes Rapman’s own experience of growing up in Deptford but going to school in Peckham, crossing the invisible postcode border.
Decidedly contemporary, Blue Story’s narrative is interspersed with grainy CCTV footage of real life youth violence. Even the coming together of Blue Story is uniquely modern, adapted from Rapman’s 2014 YouTube musical drama series of the same name.
The film is bursting with homegrown talent, not least of all Micheal Ward whose performance as Marco earned him the BAFTA Rising Star Award. The soundtrack showcases south London rappers such as Giggs, RAYE, Krept and Konan, with drill and trap music setting the tempo between scenes. Despite some dialogue being a little too on the nose, stitching real London personalities into the fabric of Blue Story’s production gives it a natural authenticity.
Revenge is a cross-cutting theme, but not in the linear tradition of The Revenant or Kill Bill where someone wronged sets out on a bloodthirsty quest for rough justice. Instead, it cuts both ways. The main characters are trapped in a cycle of vengeance that brings far more pain than satisfaction. Flashback scenes, while a blunt directorial instrument, are used to show the tragic descent into violence rather than celebrate the righteousness of it.
The use of handheld cameras throughout puts the audience right there in the thick of the action. During his refreshingly unique ‘rap narration’, Rapman places himself physically in the scene, breaking the fourth wall to look the audience in the eye. He is our bridge into the brutal world he depicts, highlighting the sobering futility of it with an honesty that avoids preaching.
Over and over, the bravado of male characters in Blue Story escalates into violence. Victims of this violence are so often left alone as their attacker flees the scene for fear of arrest. But this also means that only the audience is left to dwell on the harm they have caused. Rapman allows the camera to linger.
This raw portrayal of contemporary London is so much more than West Side Story meets Kidulthood. Blue Story’s talented cast and experimental style makes a welcome contribution to the Shakespearean turf war genre. Rapman’s final rap narration is a direct appeal to young people who might be caught up in a similar situation to his characters. Powerfully and deliberately rooted in contemporary youth culture, Blue Story is above all a heartfelt plea for peace on our streets.