Scrappy but powerful, Blue Story is also known as the film that got briefly banned by some UK cinema chains, because some people going to see it were arriving armed to the teeth.
“Blue Story, a violent gangster movie, made by the BBC,” is how one British newspaper, never happier than when playing the race card and trashing the “woke” BBC, described the film in its reporting on the violent skirmishes at Star City, Birmingham, when the film opened. What was doubly unfortunate, from the film’s perspective, is that the other film showing that day was Frozen II, so the kids lining up to see that got a lot more than they bargained for.
But the publicity payback from those headlines? Who knows. Does notoriety translate to bums on seats? Or do you alienate more people than you attract?
What’s doubly or even triply unfair is that the film does not glorify violence. In fact it is bending over backwards to point out how cowardly and indiscriminate a gun is compared to, say, physically fronting up to an adversary.
There is plenty of that, too, in the story of timid Timmy and more swaggering Marco, schoolfriends who get caught up in the postcode gang warfare of South London. Timmy’s from one bit of town and goes to school in another (just down the road, but over a crucial gang border), and it’s this fact alone that forces him to have to eventually make a dramatic choice – my “end” or my friend.
“Blue Story is a film about love not violence,” said writer/director Andrew Onwubolu (as Rapman) in a statement when the violence erupted in Birmingham. True, it is love that propels the story – Timmy’s for Leah, a sweet relationship of a mutual nerdiness (both love Game of Thrones) upended by the ongoing running battles between different gangs.
The gangs of mostly black youths have no raison d’etre – they don’t seem to run drugs and their beef with each other seems to have nothing behind it beyond territory, but both sides are fiercely and vividly drawn by Onwubolu’s screenplay in scenes that verge on the incomprehensible they’re so thick with street slang – subtitles on for this old white guy.
“Furthermore,” a word regularly used by the gangs – “get the fuck out ma face furthermore” – tickled me as a go-to, but while various gang members possibly spend a bit more time attitudinising than seems strictly necessary, the demands of on-the-hoof acting on a budget being what they are, Onwubolu’s intention, received loud and clear, is to point out that a) these are just kids, really and b) they’ve admirably got their teeth stuck into something – feckless they ain’t – it’s just the wrong something.
It’s a classic three act structure. We meet the players, we learn about the beef (no spoilers), and then the consequences of that play out in a bloody and unpleasant finale also going out of its way to avoid the “glorifying” tag. In Blue Story the biggest props go to the smallest acts by its characters. So facing down a bully in a shopping mall is shown as being much more the action of the big man than shooting someone almost haphazardly from a safe distance while they run like hell hoping to dodge the bullet.
The acting is really top notch – I’m sure there’s a more street way of putting that – and the film is absolutely rammed with faces of the future. Stephen Odubola as the timid-to-terrifying Timmy, Micheal Ward as the conflicted tough guy Marco, Khali Best as the psychotically wild-eyed Killy and Karla-Simone Spence as Timmy’s sweet but street girl Leah are the most obviously deserving of praise but there is real depth here – Kadeem Ramsay, Eric Kofi-Abrefa, Junior Afolabi, Sean Sagar – I could just write the whole cast list off the imdb, they are that good.
Onwubolu (as Rapman) turns up himself at various points, Greek chorus style, offering rapped summaries of what’s just gone down, occasionally filling in a bit of missing background, and summing up, most notably in his concluding round up – “There really ain’t no winner when you’re playing with them guns”. And that, in a phrase, is what this fast and furious film is all about.
Blue Story – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2021