Richard Curtis’s jolly toff whitewash of West London was rather a misleading affair. How confusing it must be for fans wandering Notting Hill in search of that blue door to discover cultural and economic diversity populate those pretty streets too.
Noel Clarke does not share Mr Curtis’s myopia. Across the ten year span of his ‘Hood Trilogy’ – Kidulthood (2006), Adulthood (2008) and Brotherhood (2016) – this writer/actor/director has delivered a consistent and unflinching insight into an alternate London town.
Noel Clarke, Jason Maza & Arnold Oceng Exclusive Interview
Sam Peel (Noel Clarke) returns to our screens an ostensibly changed man. Trife’s death and the events of the intervening years have instilled an urgency in him to do, and be, better. He lives an observant family life with partner Kayla, their daughter and his son. The boy’s mother (Adulthood’s Lexi) seemingly relapsed and died from an overdose. Loyal Kayla (Shanika Warren-Markland), another blast from the Hood past, has raised him as her own.
Try though he may to make amends for the past, he is ceaselessly borne back towards it. The four jobs he works support another household beside his own and the guilt and resentment he carries keep the old Sam rage simmering just beneath the surface. He confides to Kayla that he avoids his own children for fear that his influence will taint them. When his brother is shot he shoulders the burden of responsibility as if it were inevitable.
Kidulthood and Adulthood, released only two years apart, shared a youthful belligerence with Clarke himself. An angry young man energy and drive epitomised by Sam’s “…nothing to lose” catchphrase and by their evocative soundtracks. The music – by rising stars in the British grime scene – as integral to the films as the talented cast of unknowns. Brotherhood uses the same smart mix of bespoke tunes and new faces to help us transition to the new.
And much is new. For starters there’s a new crime family in town – The Daleys. Represented by the only son of the clan. The self-proclaimed Daley Male. The suited and booted Essex gangster (Jason Maza) might look like a kid but he fights like a Kray. Backed up by the sadistic Hugs (Leeshon Alexander) and Hugs’ street kid minions, Daley intends to do everything in his power to bring out the dangerous Sam of old. Things get dark, fast.
Noel Clarke has matured as a filmmaker and as an actor and his evolution is evident in Brotherhood. There is a stillness and confidence in his performance which carries us through some of the more indulgent excesses and keeps that familiar Hood heart pounding pleasingly throughout. He makes intelligent and bold directorial decisions, particularly in the aftermath of an ugly twist, elevating (if not entirely excusing) the prosaic script.
Continuing this theme of maturity are sincere attempts to address social injustice and misogyny. Unfortunately only the former is successful. In both Kayla and young street hood Poppy (Rosa Coduri) Clarke has mouthpieces for his more empowering feminist dialogue. But a kid in a toy shop enthusiasm for tits and totty sees him populating Daley’s mansion with more Brazilians than the Olympic opening ceremony and surrendering to an implausible seduction.
More disturbing is the attitude expressed towards those random muffs scattered amidst the gangsters’ sports casual mufti. They are attached to young women – presumably trafficked, their plight ignored even by progressive Poppy – women credited only as sex slaves and referenced as disposable throughout. Janette (Tonia Sotiropoulou), the only working girl with the distinction of a name, is depicted resolutely as a baddie though she is a victim too. Albeit one with a magical dry cleaning vagina (watch the coffee stain on Sam’s jumper disappear).
Brotherhood’s focus on the ripple effect of Trife’s murder does unearth a few inconsistencies which niggle. It is fun to see Cornell John bring the vengeance again but a reprisal for Katie’s suicide (her careless torture being arguably the more malicious of Sam’s Kidulthood crimes) would perhaps have made more narrative sense and forestalled the clumsy crow-barring in of a rape victim and her brothers.
Unsurprisingly the performances are uniformly strong. Clarke has an undeniable gift for bringing out the best in his cast. UK grime artist Stormzy, in his feature film debut (in addition to musical contributions), is particularly impressive here. Especially in a scene which pairs him with Adulthood’s Henry (Arnold Oceng), the reluctant Robin to Sam’s Dark Knight and Brotherhood’s welcome comic relief. Fans and completists alike will be delighted by a series of blasts from ‘hoods past.
Overall Brotherhood is a fitting full stop for the ‘Hood’ Trilogy. Cocky, good looking and extremely entertaining. A level of intimacy has been lost in the broadening of the story’s scope and the edit lacks the urgent punch of its predecessors but there still remains much to be commended here. It will be interesting to see what this homegrown hyphenate takes on next.