Directed by John O’Hanlan
Starring Idris Elba, Gemma Arterton, Franz Drameh, Charlie Creed-Miles, Kierston Wareing, Ken Stott
Released on 23rd January 2017
Having a big name attached to a film isn’t always a guarantee of success – as the makers of 100 Streets discovered when it was released last autumn. With Idris Elba riding high on the success of Star Trek Beyond and The Jungle Book, his involvement as producer and star was just the sort of boost this small British movie needed. If only the film had lived up to its star.
This is what used to be known as a portmanteau film, one that packages several stories connected by characters or themes into one movie. The link here is the 100 streets of the title, in Chelsea where affluence lives face to face with high-rise estates with their issues and depravations. The trio of stories covers a former rugby star and his crumbling marriage, a cab driver whose life is devastated by a tragic accident and a teenager with aspirations beyond the estate where he lives. Plus there’s a fourth, knitting them all together, even if only in passing.
Its release this week on DVD makes its shortcomings more apparent, especially when it comes to structure. Rather than tell the stories consecutively, director John O’Hanlon goes for something more parallel, switching from one story to another and back again. It’s not without advantages: Ken Stott’s aging actor appears in more than one story and lines of dialogue spill from one to another – but it has a major downside. We’re not allowed to spend enough time with the characters, so while you’re watching one story you’re wondering about another one. And it’s very distracting.
The acting talent – and it’s not inconsiderable – isn’t especially well served by the script either. The cast do what they can, but there simply isn’t enough for them to get their teeth into. Charlie Creed-Miles cab driver is the closest it gets to a fully rounded person, a likeable, ordinary guy who coaches the local kids’ football team. He’s a good fit for the role, looking and sounding totally at home behind the wheel of his taxi, so much so that you really feel for him when that last fare of the day turns into a personal nightmare. The showier roles belong to Elba and Gemma Arterton, as the ex-rugby player and his former actress wife. He has an eye for the ladies and a taste for white powder, she has to choose between her lover and her family. And Ken Stott hovers like a benevolent angel in Beats headphones, dipping in and out of the various stories, like helping guide young Kingsley (Franz Drameh) towards a better way of life, as well as having something of a tale of his own.
As a portrait of the society in those 100 streets, and the whole country, it’s less than subtle. At the top end are Elba and Arterton, with their beautifully immaculate house in the most affluent area. Her second home seems to be Peter Jones in Sloane Square. George and his wife represent the middle class, in a pleasant converted terrace, working hard and doing OK. And, at the bottom, are Kingsley and his mates on the estate, no money, surrounded by crime and with little in the way of a future.
Having tackled their various crises, and overcome them, nearly everybody gets a happy ending with almost a fairy tale quality. You can see them coming because, when it comes down to it, this is a very soft hearted movie. One of them, however, jars and that’s Kingsley’s. Yes, he gets his happy ending, but it comes after an act of extreme violence, one that he made happen. And the film treats it as if it never happened.
100 Streets boils down to nothing more profound than the familiar theory that everything’s connected. And it tells us little more than that. As a portrait of society, it’s painted in decidedly wishy-washy colours.
100 Streets is released on DVD on Monday, 23 January and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 26 January.