A Brixton Tale
10 Sep 2021
Darragh Carey & Bertrand Desrochers
Rupert Baynham, Darragh Carey & Chi Mai
Lily Newmark, Ola Orebiyi, Craig Middleburg
Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrochers’ A Brixton Tale is a dark and challenging modern fable set in the electric and eclectic South London district – which ventures into daring territory that sometimes extends its own credibility, but never grows dull thanks to impressive cinematography and fantastic performances from its unpredictable lead characters.
Leah (Lily Newmark) is a young filmmaker who is embarking on her first major project – a street-level look at life in Brixton. She comes across Benji (Ola Orebiyi), a young man who lives in one of the district’s council flats who tries to stay out of trouble – often made difficult by his best friend Archie (Craige Middleburg) and cousin Darius (Dexter Padmore). Benji agrees to be the subject of Leah’s film, and the pair become drawn to each other. But pressures on both lead to challenges as their lives intermingle, and the couple become drawn to a dark path.
A Brixton Tale is a little scatter-brained thematically, and its plot stretches credibility at times. However, this feature-length story of two teenagers from the same area, but very different worlds, is impressively engaging and original. Lily Newmark and Ola Orebiyi are revelations as leads Leah and Benji, and demonstrate solid and convincing chemistry as their characters are drawn into each other’s lives. Benji is a kindly and good-hearted young man, who is ground down by streets he cannot escape. Leah meanwhile is a complex and questionable girl from a privileged background – whose behaviours are consistently problematic throughout. Lily Newmark brings an innocent naivety to the teenager, and her intentions and commitment to Benji convince the viewer that he would be genuinely enamoured with her despite her flaws.
The film addresses more themes than it can give proper attention to; with racism, classism, drug abuse, sexual abuse, misogyny, online culture and more all featured as key drivers of the plot. The exploration of race, and the inequality in how working-class people are treated – even in famously multicultural areas – is the film’s priority and receives the strongest examination. However other elements are raised and left undercooked – such as Archie’s drug problems or Leah’s desire for YouTube notoriety – and end up adding little to the plot.
The plot itself also features gaps which are frustratingly left vague or unanswered. The film fails to provide clarity in a key moment at its conclusion – which is presumably an intentional design choice but comes across as lazy and unable to provide a satisfactory or logical answer. Too many key moments in the plot are driven by coincidence or flukes, and a major plot development is unconvincingly withheld in order for it to be a shock revelation. Details like this undermine the overall story, which is otherwise engaging with its general structure.
The film is beautifully shot, with Brixton’s unique culture well represented with fantastic montages of the district and wonderful camerawork which weaves the characters perfectly into their environment. Viewers will get the sense that this really is a tale of Brixton itself, and not just its residents. The contrast of scenes shot through Leah’s camera and traditional filming also effectively inserts audiences into Leah’s perspective – and the growing disconnect between her and Benji as we are dragged away. It’s inventive techniques like this, along with a novel and contemporary story, which make the film feel truly original.
Despite some flaws, A Brixton Tale is a worthy watch that is not afraid to tackle difficult subjects with a bold and challenging outlook. It’s a shame the film’s 80-minute runtime could not have been longer to explore its’ themes in more depth, and flesh out an intriguing plot a little more.