GMFF - Festival Opening: Ill Manors - Cinema Review

'overtly concerned with what is happening on our estates and in our children's minds there is a categoric concern here too with parentage, or, more aptly, the lack thereof'

Ben Drew's clever, labyrinth of plot, d├ębut has much more going for it underneath the hood than merely a decently composed, dual-meaning, title. The manors in question here may be ill in both traditional and slang meanings of the word but in the quality of the film there's no question: this is outstanding film-making, especially from a new talent.

Certainly, many first time writer/directors would not have opted to attempt something so densely plotted. The first cut of Ill Manors ran to two hours forty minutes and given that its length is still something of a problem, it must be counted as a success that it eventually got down to the two hour mark. Drew's tale is of overlapping protagonists of dubious moral and criminal worth. A prostitute, two low-level drug dealers, an illegal immigrant, the newest member of a street gang. There's lots going on and it's orchestrated well, Drew never giving the impression that his narrative is on the verge of getting away from him.

Whilst the overall plot of the film is overtly concerned with what is happening on our estates and in our children's minds there is a categoric concern here too with parentage, or, more aptly, the lack thereof. Both Aaron (Riz Ahmed) and Ed (Ed Skrein) come from foster homes - Aaron clearly having issues coming to terms with his past - the younger members of the cast rely on poor role models like drug dealer Chris (Lee Allen) for guidance, Chris himself, we are told, having suffered early in life, literally permanently marked by it. Late on - perhaps too late - a plot with a baby is introduced where various characters, all potentially seeking redemption, band round in a near animalistic show of protection they never benefited from. It harks back to the opening scene where Ahmed watches a TV programme discussing parenthood and Drew's narrator tells us to pay attention: this is important, especially if you are, or plan to be, a parent.

Eventually, at around the point the baby is introduced, the strains on the plot do start to show. Russian sex traffickers just weren't something Ill Manors needed, and they contribute to a feeling of stereotyping, Anouska Mond's 'tart with a heart' character turning around for no reason, she being given short shrift on background, where Ahmed gets plenty. It's not enough to kill the feeling that Drew has presided over something pretty special and his slightly egotistical semi-appearance is, really, well deserved.

A word too for the inaugural Greater Manchester Film Festival, which put on a professional and well-presented show, presided over by a veritable army of volunteers. I counted around eight walkouts, which is always the sign that you've picked a great opening night film. The complimentary Joseph Holt (of Manchester) beer was a nice touch. Opening night has given the rest of the weekend the potential to be something fantastic.

Ill Manors is out in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 8th October.

The inaugural Greater Manchester Film Festival (GMFF) runs from 5th to 7th October, with screenings at The Printworks Odeon and Media City.

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