Steve McQueen directs Sheyi Cole, Robbie Gee and Johann Myers in this biopic of the early life of a black British youth who endured care homes, the Brixton riots and prison before finding his voice to become a Young Adult author.
The least focussed of the Small Axe so far. In moments it mimics McQueen’s Hunger or Shame as we witness Alex suffer under the white authorities. At other times it feels like a spoof sketch called “Black Harry Potter Goes Brixton”. Despite an overriding bleakness, this is the first of the films that made me laugh out loud with its sense of humour and period. It is hard to tally the occasional broad lightness with an interlude studying the aftermath of the New Cross arson attack with poetry and photography though. Likewise the riots themselves feel like an underwhelming skirmish. The best scenes are between a broken Wheatle and Simeon, an imposing dread with a good book collection, in a prison cell. They have best lines and, in Robbie Gee, the finest performance.
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