Sep 13, 2023
Elikem Agbesi, Isobel Moon, Habida Moloney
Peace Osigbe’s Golden Stripes is an emotive and charged drama addressing abuse, knife crime, racism and corruption – that features moments of excellent drama and powerful allusion to real-world incidents, but is let down by a poor dialogue, awkward performances and a confusing and convoluted plot.
Tyrone (Elikem Agbesi) is a gifted young artist living in London who dreams of committing full-time to his painting. He lives with the weight of an abusive childhood and complex dynamic between with his girlfriend Naomi (Isobel Moon), mother Ibukun (Habida Moloney) and sister Folashade (Tanya Lindsay). But unbeknownst to all of them, a murderous, dangerous and well-connected gang responsible for a spate of deaths is about to tear the family apart.
Golden Stripes is a bold and unwavering drama with some genuinely impressive and touching high-points that are unfortunately too few and far between to sustain over its runtime. When it’s good, it’s great. A scene of a protest following a brutal murder that the police appear happy to be left unsolved is devastatingly well-done – invoking all-too-frequent real-life killings that have devastated families and communities. Isobel Moon and Habida Moloney’s performances in this scene are astonishingly visceral. Similarly, Elikem Agbesi is consistently inspiring and empathetic as Tyrone – nailing a difficult and complex character effortlessly.
The film also looks great, outperforming a smaller budget to deliver a visually engaging and atmospheric sense of darkness and regret. Osigbe is not afraid to deliver unconventional scene staging or play with the film’s timeline. Whilst occasionally confusing, this does allow for some interesting plot exploration. Poor sound design, making dialogue difficult to hear throughout the film, is a downside however.
However, despite these successes, the film’s fundamentals contain deep flaws that degrade the overall feature and make for an unsatisfying outcome. The plot is filled to the brim with holes and conveniences, as well as an all-mighty deus ex machina that seems to arise solely because the filmmakers remembered that films generally tend to feature conclusions. The antagonistic gang that had terrorised the area and appear to have high-level connections are raised as a sinister antagonist, yet the film never truly explores the dynamic in a way that their prominence in the first and second acts demand. Characters seem to have confrontation as a default mode of communication – fine at times as the director wishes to depict the hostility and anguish murders instil into a community. But this soon becomes almost comically regular amongst characters that otherwise ought to have a positive or constructive relationship.
This is coupled with largely weak performances from the cast that fall back on shouting, screaming and crying with startlingly regularity. The film is truly bleak – again, understandable given its story and themes. But the sheer amount of sadness and anger, and the overblown and overdramatic realisation of this by the cast, mean that all the shrieking has dwindling results. Too many characters feel like they’re speaking with the same voice, resulting in chemistry-less interactions. And some of the characterisation itself would have Eastenders writers blushing – particularly Tyrone’s ludicrously evil step-mother figure.
Director Peace Osigbe and writer Darren Yeboah’s ambition and vision are commendable and admirable – and it is these twin virtues that are at the heart of Golden Stripes’ high points. More refinement to their storytelling would have ironed out some of the film’s major issues. And whilst these issues are considerable, its grit, emotion and representation do make this film worth a watch despite its flaws.