A Way of Life
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Amma Asante
with Stephanie James, Nathan Jones, Gary Sheppeard, Dean Wong, Sara Gregory, Brenda Blethyn, Oliver Haden, Victoria Pugh, Lynsey Richards, Amy Morgan, Ri Richards, Nicholas McGaughey
release UK 12.Nov.04
04/UK 1h30

Mother and child: James (and baby Rebecca)



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A Way of Life This gritty drama takes a look at one of the ugliest sides of British society, like a particularly bleak Mike Leigh movie. It's insightful and beautifully made, but so bereft of hope that it leaves you in stunned silence.

In the Cardiff suburbs, Leigh-Anne (James) is a teenager with a baby, trying to make a go of life in her own home, even though she has no fridge and the electricity has been cut off again. Her "family" consists of three guys living in a nearby squat: her sensitive brother Gav (Jones) is in love with the girl (Gregory) across the road, the energetic Robbie (Sheppeard) is trying to find his inner Welshman, the confused Stephen (Wong) is rejecting his ethnic roots. In this depressed and difficult situation, blind hatred and blame is sure to erupt in violence.

There's a sense of hopefulness in these characters, even as they're driven to desperate survival methods, which in turn creates a deep sense of paranoia and mistrust. As an examination of the nature of hate crime--and working class racism in general--this is enlightening and terrifying. But writer-director Asante is merely observing here, not offering any alternatives. She isn't quite simplistic enough to blame society for the behaviour of these young people; their personal choices are the key turning point in their lives.

The young cast is superbly natural and real. These are not likeable people in any way--obnoxious, over-reactive, narrow-minded and bearing enormous chips on their shoulders--the wasted-life kids we see every day on the streets. James is especially good, actually generating moments of sympathy even though Leigh-Anne is the worst of the lot! And the two main adults (Blethyn as Leigh-Anne's nasty "mother-in-law", Haden as her bothered neighbour) are also excellent. Meanwhile, Asante directs with a strong visual sense that looks both gritty and beautiful. This is astute writing and directing, cleverly capturing subtle nuances of British society and dipping into the rough end of culture in a telling, chilling way. So it's not surprising to find that beneath the youthful energy, the film is almost unbearably sad. And harrowing.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sex 9.Aug.04

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... A Way of Life Kibutz, Donostia: 5/5 "I saw this movie recently at the Donostia film festival, and i think that is the best movie of 2004! i think that its well directed and well acted. the cast is great!" (27.Sep.04)

David, UK: 5/5 "The film blew me away - an exceptional talent both sides of the camera, and a young actor named Nathan Jones whom i assisted on a different project gives a gutsy and REAL performance."

Lesley Oxley, Shropshire: 5/5 "I was lucky enough to be invited to the premiere, at the Cardiff Screen Festival. This was important to me as it was the last film my husband (Steve Oxley) had the pleasure to work on, before his death earlier this year. I found the film extremely powerful. I can see it becoming one of the cult films of our time. Look forward to seeing the young actors in the future. Their performances were absolutely amazing." (24.Nov.04)

2004 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall