To say that the British urban genre is the most disregarded film genre would be an understatement. I’ve seen a lot of these films over the years, the good ones and the bad ones, but they always take a no-nonsense approach to serious themes concerning race, poverty, drugs and other societal problems. These films are about stuff that matters.
There really is no excuse not to venture into this gritty part of cinema, so here are my top ten favourites.
Babylon is a legendary film, fuelled with reggae music and it depicts the struggles of Black British working-class musicians. It centres on themes of racism, poverty and violence against black people. This film has mostly been forgotten, but it’s a great story with memorable characters.
It is unacceptable to have not seen Trainspotting! It’s an unbelievable film, which places a group of heroin addicts front and centre, and follows their chaotic lives in Edinburgh. Beyond drug addiction, the film focuses on other themes such as urban poverty. The film portrays people we usually don’t see in mainstream cinema. It’s a classic film.
Bullet Boy (2004)
Bullet Boy is a critically acclaimed film, but it didn’t get much commercial success. It’s a harrowing tale of two brothers living in East London, and the eldest sibling is involved in gun crime. The film shows the effects of this on the younger brother. Bullet Boy always stood out for me as one of the most realistic urban films.
Noel Clarke’s Kidulthood is a time capsule for the lives of inner city teenagers. It’s already aged significantly since it came out ten years ago, as all the slang terms are outdated, but it’s still highly relevant because it involves bullying and peer pressure. It’s an important film and very much the British version of Kids (1996).
This Is England (2006)
Poignant, funny and mesmerising, This Is England depicts those who treat violence as a means to an end. It’s an utterly incredible film, which details the lives of a group of skinheads in the 1980s. It’s honest and intelligent, but deeply moving. This Is England is a landmark British film.
Although not as good as the original, Adulthood is still a worthy follow-up, providing an unflinching look at the troubled lives of the same characters in Kidulthood.
Fish Tank (2009)
You don’t often hear that much about Fish Tank, one of the few urban films to present us with a female protagonist. Although it’s the least entertaining and insightful film on this list, it has a very engaging story, focusing on a young girl who lives with her wayward mother in a council estate. The film mostly relies on the great performances by Michael Fassbender and Katie Jarvis.
Harry Brown (2009)
The plausibility of Harry Brown is questionable, as it involves an old man carrying out a vigilante rampage, but I don’t care for realism in this case because it’s a brilliant film. It’s exhilarating watching Michael Cain’s Harry Brown take on the violent thugs, who are running riot in his council estate. It’s a different take on the urban genre, as we see things from an OAP’s point of view. And he’s one that you don’t want to mess with.
Ill Manors (2012)
Ill Manors is a surprisingly good film, even though it follows the same formula as all the other ‘hood’ and urban dramas. It follows the lives of a range of different characters, all struggling with numerous challenges involving gang culture, drugs and violence. It’s brutal and extremely powerful.
Gone Too Far (2013)
With the plethora of serious urban dramas, Gone Too Far is the perfect antidote. It’s an upbeat comedy about a London teenager, whose brother comes to live with him from Nigeria. The film follows the hilarious calamities the brothers get themselves into when they are forced to spend the day together. It’s very funny and presents an interesting culture clash.