Plan B: Spotlight on darkness

By Scott Kara

Rapper/actor Plan B hopes his debut film will help to change the desperate society he witnessed growing up, writes Scott Kara

British hip hop musician Plan B. Photo / Supplied
British hip hop musician Plan B. Photo / Supplied

Ben Drew issues a warning at the beginning of his debut feature film, Ill Manors. You see, the director, who is better known by the name Plan B, is the narrator of this grim London underworld tale, and he asks, "Are you sitting comfortably? Well, put your seat belts on because you're in for a harrowing ride. Because this is Ill Manors, where dark shit goes on at night."

Drew, a rapper, hip-hop producer, film-maker, and actor, who most recently starred alongside Ray Winstone in The Sweeney, is what you might call a talented geezer. And he does "dark shit" well, from the songs he writes and stories he tells to the images and tension he conjures up on film.

In Ill Manors - also the title of his third album from last year which is the soundtrack to the film - he focuses on eight core characters whose drug and violence-filled lives interconnect with each other over the course of seven days.

There's the story of Michelle (Drew also made a short film about this character in 2008), who is accused of taking local drug dealer Ed's phone and so to pay him back sells herself for sex to employees at various takeaway shops.

"She's a real girl. And the story was told to me by a guy about how she had stolen a phone off them and the way they had got the money back, which was her idea, and that was to go from chicken shop to chicken shop and go in the back with the geezers."

Then there's the even more tragic story of pregnant prostitute Katya.

"Her story is the most desperate. The things she is having to do to survive, and she's got this newborn baby," says Drew in his tough, street-wise lilt.

The film is hard to watch at times but then that's the effect Drew was going for because, although he had a reasonably stable upbringing, he grew up witnessing the desperation of those around him.

"Everything is based on what I've seen, and to be honest it is pessimistic in a way, and that comes from a real fear when I was growing up, and I hated being in that situation, in that environment, and I thought the only way of changing it was by holding a mirror up to it.

"This is what's going on, and it's not right.

"Because I feel that most people, when they actually see it, and see the repercussions of their actions, I feel it does get through to most people. That was my whole thinking through making the film."

Shot in and around Forest Gate, Manor Park, and parts of Hackney - or, if that doesn't mean too much to you, Drew describes it cheekily as "the neighbouring boroughs around London's Olympic Village" - the film's minimal £100,000 budget ($182,000) belies its scale and two-hour length.

Using a cast of virtual unknowns helped with the budget constraints; Drew's friend, Ed Skrein (who also starred in Michelle), is drug dealer Ed, and the standout performance is by Drew's godfather and first-time actor Keith Coggins, who plays ruthless, barking mad ex-con Kirby.

The step up to a feature film was also challenging considering previously Drew had only directed Michelle and a music video for Pieces, a track by Brit bass music duo Chase & Status.

"It was the hardest thing I've ever done, man. It was more of a monster than an album is. An album's a piece of piss," he laughs.

And now that he has Ill Manors, the movie, out of his system and his music career has started to hit its stride with Ill Manors, his second No1 album in Britain, he says he's got a much more optimistic view of the world.

"My life has become enriched. I think for me there will always be tragedy, but I hope some of the issues that have been raised in the film means we can start focusing on them and adjusting."

Who: Plan B, director, rapper and actor. Real name Ben Drew
What: Debut feature film, Ill Manors, which is also the name of his third album from last year
Screens: Tomorrow night, Event Cinemas, Queen St, 9pm. Also available on DVD in June

- TimeOut

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