Directed by Darragh Carey and Bertrand Deroches, written by Carey, Rupert Baynham and Chi Mai, wealthy YouTuber Leah chooses shy youth Benji as the subject of her Brixton documentary. They fall for each other, but the desire for edgy footage leads them down a violent path. Starring: Ola Orebiyi, Lily Newmark, Craige Middleburg, Barney Harris and Jaime Winstone.
It’s an interesting choice to start out a film with one of your central characters stalking and secretly filming the other. The persona it quickly builds for Leah (Lily Newmark) is complex and troubling but as time goes on it begins to feel that it’s one the film isn’t prepared to explore. A Brixton Tale remains very much in the teenage arena, it doesn’t quite step into a more emotionally mature and affecting place. There are several reasons for that but the initial one is how they develop the character of Leah, almost skipping entirely over the dark and manipulative aspects of her personality. It feels misguided to think that audiences will have a sympathy for her when there’s little reason to, and thereby undermines any attempt at an emotional connection from her later on.
There are also issues with the pacing, it takes a steep turn into its violent territory then moves too swiftly through it, for it to land effectively. There are especially important moments that glue events and their consequences together later on that are nearly entirely glossed over other than a few silent cut together shots. The choices do feel realistic and follow a reasonable path but their true meanings and repercussions in a larger sense feel unexplored.
On the other hand an aspect that’s extremely consistent and strong throughout is the performance by Ola Orebiyi, a fantastic actor. He’s the piece that holds things together when others fall short, the reason to stay invested. Orebiyi brings a sincerity, vulnerability, generosity and a touch of naivety to Benji, making you want to protect him and wish a better life for this loyal and intelligent young man. Lily Newmark’s performance is more tricky to judge, she brings that doe eyed exterior and manipulative interior well but then when she tries to be more open and emotional down the line, it doesn’t work. It isn’t because of her performance, rather that it’s out of place for the character and there’s nothing she can do to avoid that. Similarly with Craige Middleburg, he gives a great performance but the story gives his character such a steep development that despite his great and touching performance, it can’t reach its full potential, it needed a little more foreshadowing or lead up to bring it home.
The heart of A Brixton Tale is the superb performance by Ola Orebiyi, the story doesn’t always have the depth to back up his portrayal and yet he’s completely consistent throughout. Sadly there isn’t the time to truly dive into the larger issues this story touches upon in its short 76 minutes. It tries to speed through the latter stages and the result is dulling their impact, not allowing this story to have as affecting of an atmosphere as it had the potential for. It feels as though there was a more sinister side to this tale that got left in the background rather than being let loose to bring havoc and edge, going instead for something more lightweight and targeted to a younger audience.