LONDON — When you think of Notting Hill, chances are you conjure up images of grand Victorian townhouses, chic boutiques, upmarket eateries and that infamous blue door behind which Julia Roberts cowered from the press in Richard Curtis’ eponymous romantic comedy.
But a gritty new Brit indie feature about alienated kids growing up in west London is about to explode the myth that all is peaches and cream in the leafy manor.
Writer-thesp Noel Clarke grew up in Ladbroke Grove — the less salubrious end of Notting Hill — and his arresting debut feature “Kidulthood” paints a picture of the social crisis facing many British teens today. The film, which charts a day in the life of a group of troubled 15-year-olds, aims to shock and never shies away from the harsh realities.
With its graphic depictions of casual violence, prostitution, unwanted pregnancy, rampant drug use and barbaric bullying, Menhaj Huda’s directorial debut is set to scare the living daylights out of parents across middle England. Tabloid newspaper the Sun already has called for the pic to be banned on the grounds that it may encourage spiraling gun crime in the U.K.
But Clarke is adamant that the pic does not glamorize the kids’ wretched lives. Instead, the 30-year old writer insists it simply tells it like it is: “Society has encouraged the film because bullying in schools, kids in ‘hoodies’ and happy-slapping is happening already. This film is highlighting that. It’s not promoting. It’s not justifying. It’s not offering answers. It’s simply saying: ‘This is what’s going on. Deal with it.’ ”
Notting Hill-based distrib Revolver Entertainment is handling the release, and its hip young gunslingers are no stranger to a bit of controversy. The org, launched in 1997 as a home entertainment distrib, moved into theatrical in 2004 with surfing pic “Billabong Odyssey”; it has attracted attention for releasing taboo-busting French titles “Ma Mere” and “13” (Tzameti).
The fledgling distrib picked up “Kidulthood” from sales agent Hanway Films (which is plotting sales to other territories). Revolver topper Justin Marciano declares his firm the “natural home” for movies like “Kidulthood” because its strength is its inhouse PR and marketing teams,” who are well-versed in reaching the teens represented in the film that comprise the core aud.
Even a short stroll around Notting Hill shows the guerrilla campaign is fully operational. It is impossible not to notice promotional “Kidulthood” stickers plastered over every lamppost and mailbox after Revolver sent freebies to visitors to the film’s Web site. The trailer is available to download to cell phone, iPod and PSP, with the hope that it will be passed around the playground like a pack of illicit cigarettes or a wicked rumor.
Authenticity is the key selling point. The tagline reads, “Based on real kids. Real stories. This is real life.” Clarke makes much of the fact that the script was constructed from genuine news stories about teens in peril — the evidence is even included in the press materials.
In keeping with the filmmaker’s obsession with keeping it real, the cast is primarily street kids who can act rather than polished actors who can slum it, although there is some genuine pedigree in the mix.
Clarke, who recently appeared in TV hit “Dr Who,” plays the main bully and Jaime Winstone, daughter of Ray, stars as a drug-addled young temptress concealing her own insecurities. Rafe Spall (son of Timothy) also has a part.
Hardcore Brit rap talent including Dizzee Rascal, the Streets, Roots Manuva, Sway, Skinnyman, Lethal B and Klashnekoff provide the music, a fitting soundtrack to the relentless urban strife unspooling. Revolver released the CD on Feb. 27 to build buzz before the March 3 theatrical release.
Exhibs are fairly confident that “Kidulthood” can find its audience. “As it is a relatively quiet period, we are able to support the movie and expect it to play best in downmarket, ethnic sites such as Enfield, Ilford, Feltham and Wandsworth,” says Andrew Turner, Cineworld head of film booking.
“The date has worked out perfectly for Revolver as, with ‘The Fog’ and ‘Aeon Flux’ not having made much of an impression of late, there is little out there for teen audience,” he adds. “Armed with a 15 certificate, it has the best opportunity it could to catch a fire.”
The youthful cast and crew were offering a guiding light by experienced cinematographer Brian Tufano, no stranger to movies that have captured the zeitgeist, having shot cult hits “Quadrophenia” and “Trainspotting.”
Whether “Kidulthood” proves as seminal as those Brit pics or as enduring as teenage noir “Kids” or “La Haine” remains to be seen. What is certain is that it’ll kick up a stink.
Marciano is convinced that’s a good thing: ” ‘Kidulthood’ is all about adults living in kids’ bodies, and that’s very sad. If we can encourage just one more parent or kid to talk from watching this film, then it will have been a good thing.”