In directorial debut A Way Of Life, Amma Asante achieves two notable feats. As well as making your average Ken Loach film feel like a knockabout comedy, she delivers a raw and immensely moving drama about life on the wrong side of the South Wales tracks. This is a hugely accomplished British movie that deserves to be seen. The same goes for newcomer Stephanie James' performance as a teenage mum whose love for her baby is matched only by her hatred for others.
Leigh-Anne (James) is sharp as flint, feisty as hell, and will do anything for her baby daughter Rebecca - even if it's morally inexcusable. Living in a house that would pass for squalid if they gave it a lick of paint, she's never far from trouble. Grandmother Annette (Brenda Blethyn, struggling to make the Welsh accent stick) disapproves of Leigh-Anne's parenting skills and wants to look after Rebecca herself. There's also a running feud with Turkish neighbour Hassan (Oliver Haden), fuelled by Leigh-Anne's appalling racism and jealousy of his relationship with daughter Julie (Sara Gregory). Little wonder a spectator tells Leigh-Anne, "You're better than the telly, you are."
"A TENDER SOUNDTRACK BY DAVID GRAY"
Her partners-in-crime are brother Gavin (Nathan Jones) - not-so-secretly in love with Julie - and his two pals, Robbie (Gary Sheppeard) and Stephen (Dean Wong). Their lives finally gain direction - in the wrong way, of course - when Rebecca gets accidentally hurt, starting a train of events that will lead to the tragedy foretold in the film's opening sequence.
A Way Of Life is beautifully filmed (even if there are a few too many 'industrial landscape at sunset' shots) and has a tender soundtrack by David Gray which complements the on-screen brutality. Asante's greatest achievement, however, is to make us care for a character who, in lesser hands, could just have been a Daily Mail reader's worst nightmare. Go see this Life.