The opening scene hits hard – a teenage gang beating up a defenceless man. Don’t be put off, this is not a violent film. Rather, it’s a film about violence, a serious and subtle study of why the attack happens.
It follows the lives of four South Wales teenagers trying to make their way after leaving children’s homes. Leigh-Anne (Stephanie James) is a teenage mother with no job or prospects. She hangs around with Robbie, Gavin and Stephen, who stash stolen goods at her house and pass on some of the paltry proceeds.
Début writer-director Asante shows great maturity and ambition. She reveals her characters’ despair and self-hatred, which find expression in racism and ultimately in violence. Yet, because she leads us to understand them, she retains the audience’s sympathy. It’s finely balanced and there are moments of hope, crucial points where the characters could have followed other paths, but don’t – through chance, misunderstanding or prejudice against them.
It’s not perfect. Occasionally the opposition between their world and the official world – the housing department, social services, a prospective employer – is too clear cut. But in the realist tradition of Ken Loach, Alan Clarke and Karl Frances, it’s gripping and superbly acted.
Stephanie James is astonishing and old hands Brenda Blethyn and Oliver Haydn are just right in supporting roles. Many directors would have ended the film five minutes earlier, but the final scene, when Leigh-Anne realizes the consequences of her actions, is a gem – revealing, resolving and moving. This is a very impressive first film.