We’re witnessing a progressive new era of Black British creatives on stage and screen …
… and no two artists epitomise this current climate more than Michaela Coel and Arinzé Kene.
Both triple threats in their own right (Writer, Actor, Musical Performer) they’ve come to prominence through theatre and television respectively and captured the hearts and minds of a diverse audience.
With Tinge Krishnan’s ‘Been So Long’, the momentum won’t be stopping any time soon, with UK’s finest making a seamless transition into a musical, let alone film (which is a first leading role in this medium for Michaela). Based on the play by Che Walker, Been So Long is a contemporary love story set in the colourful, charismatic and musical hotbed of Camden Town, London.
Simone (Coel) is a single and devoted mother not fussed on sex and romance, who after an unlikely night out with her boisterous best friend ‘Yvonne‘ (the hilarious Ronke Adekoluejo) captures the eyes of Raymond LeGrande (Kene) on his first night out of jail. What follows is a fun-filled event with plenty of heart, chemistry and London pride, complimented by a very talented supporting cast.
Outside of the central love story we are introduced to Yvonne, out of love landlord ‘Barney‘ (Luke Norris) facing closure of his pub, Simone’s wise before her year’s daughter – wanting to find closure of her own, troubled ‘Gil‘ (the excellent George Mckay) and her daughter’s father ‘Kestrel‘ (Joe Dempsie). Krishnan eloquently fields three-dimensionality in her cast who provide resonance bereft of filler scenes, and find their way in the lives of Raymond and Simone whilst all being afforded their own story arc that comes to mostly satisfactory conclusions within the film.
Where I could appreciate the prominent use of the ensemble cast, I was slightly disappointed for a lack of a better word at not seeing even more development of the relationship between Simone and Raymond. Coel and Kene really shine in this project, with believable chemistry, great use of dialogue and a mature charm we rarely get to witness when it comes to representation of black love on screen. But beyond their first meeting, a date where they end up in bed together and a couple of awkward wrong-time wrong-place moments, we don’t really get enough scenes to watch them grow as a couple or at least believe the depth of the relationship before things go wrong (before inevitably going right).
However, the scenes they do have together are ones to cherish, with juxtaposing set pieces including finding love again in a chicken and chips shop or playing shy on a park bench on Primrose Hill. They both have chops too, with voices meshing really well musically even if there wasn’t necessarily a stand out signature song to take home ala ‘City of Stars‘ in ‘LaLa Land‘ (yes we all knew the LaLa Land comparison was coming).
Bar wanting to see more of the centered love story and a timeless soundtrack, Been So Long really does deliver on the fairytale front, and as a North Londoner I was happy to see how effortlessly Camden was represented within the story; If Camden was the heart of the film then, as a journalist described the “ever-present Overground trains were running through the background like arteries”.
Been So Long is an enjoyable experience; the hopeful trigger for more creative millennial British narratives, the wake-up call for more three-dimensional black love on our screens (with opportunities for dark-skinned women) and the continuance of a flourishing career for Michaela Coel, Arinzé Kene, and the brilliant supporting cast.
Been So Long
Director: Tinge Krishnan
Screenwriter: Che Walker
Cast: Michaela Coel, Arinze Kene, Ronke Adekoluejo, Luke Norris, Joe Dempsie, Ashley Thomas
Release Dates: UK Tour 22nd – 23rd November. Find out more here. Netflix Friday 26th October 2018.