Ill Manors, Or, The World According To Plan B

Grime artist, soul revivalist, social commentator and now, filmmaker, but what exactly is message behind Ill Manors?
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Grime artist, soul revivalist, social commentator and now, filmmaker, but what exactly is message behind Ill Manors?

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British cinema has always been associated with social realism, from the wartime documentaries of Humphrey Jennings and the Free Cinema movement, through to the melancholy portrayals of working class life from the likes of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh, with echoes of both being seen in recent work from Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine.

With Ill Manors, the directorial debut from the modern day polymath that is Plan B, we have a film that sits somewhere alongside a social realist aesthetic, but offers a very contrasting message to something like Paddy Considine’s Tyrannosaur, one of the most lauded British films of recent years, an unflinching and fantastic study of life on the margins of society.

Like Tyrannosaur, Ill Manors focuses on a small community to examine wider societal issues. B himself introduces himself as the narrator, frequently providing exposition with some dark, heavy narrative rhymes that would sit comfortably on some of his earlier grime albums, before he started flirting with Strickland Banks and Caggie off Made In Chelsea.

The characters in Ill Manors are numerous and intertwining, storylines overlap and scenes are returned to from different perspectives, providing an interesting non-linear structure which, for a first time filmmaker, should be commended. The themes are exactly what you’d expect: kids born into deprived backgrounds, coming from broken families, growing up and getting involved in gang culture, drugs and prostitution, invariably leading to tragedy, all themes that have been dealt with by the directors mentioned already.

It’s no use making a film surrounding these issues without offering up some kind of solution.

However, it’s no use making a film surrounding these issues without offering up some kind of solution. Cinema, well, any art, is not so much a response to society, rather an attempt to open up a dialogue. Tyrannosaur was so brilliant because what it was saying was that we are all a product of our environment, and illustrated how hard it is, and the extreme lengths a person has to go to, to get out of that environment. While Ill Manors shares in this opinion to some extent, it also offers up a slightly different, and frankly more conservative ideology.

It all comes down to the idea of choice. Through its focus on the histories of the characters involved Plan B shows us how in life you are dealt a hand early on, and you play the cards as they fall. This is summed up when one character addresses a crying baby, born to an illegal immigrant prostitute on the run from some Russian gangsters (yep), says the child “doesn’t have a hope in hell”. However, what the overriding message of the film seems to be is this: you could be born into the roughest environment in the world, you could be as disadvantaged as they come, but at the end of the day, your destiny is in your own hands, and if you choose to get involved in a life of crime, drugs, whatever, then this is your choice, and you will live or die by the consequences.

This message could be taken both ways I suppose. On the one hand it could be seen as empowering to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, saying that all they need to do is make that choice to change their ways. On the other hand, in empowering the individual it removes responsibility from the Government, which given the fact that the country is currently experiencing high unemployment, a dwindling economy and a dearth of affordable housing, whilst perversely pumping money into converting Stratford into the Olympic Village, maybe isn’t the smartest thing to be saying.

So what to make of Ill Manors? Well, some of the scenes look a little amateurish in terms of cinematography and direction, but the story flows nicely and every character is developed well. It’s brutal, naturally, without ever verging on pornographic or exploitative, and there are some great performances, notably Riz Ahmed as Aaron, whose conscience is tested multiple times throughout the film – though he doesn’t have the most screen time, he is our eyes and ears, our point of identification, and he carries the burden expertly, as he did in Four Lions and Shifty before. The cameo from punk-poet and father of alternative comedy John Cooper Clarke is wonderful too, though the fluidity and playfulness of his language does show up some of Plan B’s rhymes as somewhat average, but then again, many lyricists would be average compared to John Cooper Clarke, not least if it were John Cooper Clarke making the comparison. The poem he reads is entitled “Pity The Plight Of Young Fellows”, which in a recent interview with Seven Streets he said was “about the view of young people from a jaundiced old twat’s point of view.” It seems then that that’s what the film is offering up – many solutions, many points of view, conflicting or otherwise. It’s up to you to decide which one to listen to.

Ill Manors’ Ed Skrein Interviewed: “Plan B Is My Confidant…”

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