Britain has changed a great deal in the last 50 years. Afternoon tea, colliery bands and swinging like a pendulum do are all relics of the past, while the sun set on the British Empire sometime after 1971, the year the UK withdrew most of its military forces from East of Suez. One thing, however, hasn’t changed: the primacy of the ‘kitchen sink drama’ in British filmmaking.
From Andrea Arnold to Ken Loach, British directors are as enamored today with cinematic representations of working-class life as they’ve ever been – and judging from newcomer Sally Al-Hoseini’s new film My Brother the Devil (opening at Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas on Friday, April 12) the kitchen sink isn’t about to be drained any time soon.
Set among the tower blocks of Hackney, My Brother the Devil tells the story of Mo (Fady Elsayed) and Rash (James Floyd), sons of first-generation Egyptian immigrants. Mo’s a studious young man looking ahead to university while Rash is a ‘jack-the-lad’ deeply involved with what he calls ‘big boy stuff’ – otherwise known as selling dope — as part of a local gang known as DMG (Drugs, Money, Guns).
Mo, however, isn’t entirely satisfied with being the family golden boy. Keen to emulate his big brother’s skill at earning money, he surreptitiously insinuates himself into the good graces of DMG members Repo (Aymen Hamdouchi) and Aj (Arnold Oceng), who initiate him into the gang despite Rash’s objections.
Meanwhile, Rash’s life is moving in the opposite direction. Shocked by the stabbing death of chum Lenny (Ashley Thomas), he lucks into a job with professional photographer Sayyid (Said Taghmaoui). Meanwhile, Dad Abdul-Aziz (Nasser Memarzia) holds forth about the reliability of his vintage Soviet-made transistor radio, while Mum Hanan (Amira Ghazalla) silently accepts the £20 notes she finds stuffed into her purse – first by one brother, then the other.
Does My Brother the Devil rely on routine kitchen-sink tropes? Without a doubt, but Al-Hoseini (who also wrote the screenplay) adeptly shuffles the cards, rearranging familiar elements, defying expectations, and offering several surprises – not least during a critical scene in which Mo opens up to girlfriend Aisha (the charming Letitia Wright) about an embarrassing situation.
Previous British films focusing on Muslim characters have felt obliged to do one of two things: present Islam as just another happy-clappy religion, or apologize for its ‘association’ with ‘terrorism’. Refreshingly, this one doesn’t succumb to either temptation. Precisely which brother is the Devil – and whether or not that Devil is the property of any particular religious denomination — is left to the viewer to determine.
Supported by a superb Stuart Earl score influenced in equal measure by traditional classical music and contemporary electronica, My Brother the Devil succeeds primarily thanks to its uniformly excellent cast — most notably, lead James Floyd. The child of an Indian mother and an English father, the dashingly handsome Floyd could well be Britain’s next big star. If producer Barbara Broccoli and the folks at Eon Productions were sufficiently open-minded, he could easily become the first non-white James Bond – but whatever his future, he’s destined to leave the kitchen sink far behind.
Berkeleyside’s film writer John Seal writes a weekly movie recommendation column at Box Office Prophets, as well as a column in The Phantom of the Movies’ Videoscope, an old-fashioned paper magazine, published quarterly.
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