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Way of Life, A (2004)

Courtesy of Verve Pictures

Main image of Way of Life, A (2004)
35mm, colour, 91 mins
DirectorAmma Asante
Production CompanyAWOL Productions
Produced byCharlie Hanson
 Patrick Cassavetti
 Peter Edwards
Written byAmma Asante
PhotographyIan Wilson
Music byDavid Gray

Cast: Stephanie James (Leigh-Anne Williams); Nathan Jones (Gavin Williams); Gary Sheppeard (Robbie Matthews); Dean Wong (Stephen Rajan); Sara Gregory (Julie Osman); Oliver Haden (Hassan Osman); Brenda Blethyn (Annette Lewis)

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A teenage mother, struggling to bring up her small daughter, is involved in a devastating crime.

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Former actress Amma Asante's hard-hitting directorial debut paints a memorably bleak portrait of the lives of a quartet of impoverished and unemployable teenagers in South Wales. Leigh-Anne (Stephanie James) is a single mother living with her baby daughter Rebecca in a squalid council flat with intermittent electricity, which her brother Gavin (Nathan Jones) and friends Robbie (Gary Sheppeard) and Stephen (Dean Wong) use as a base for storing stolen goods prior to selling them.

Asante and James (in an astonishingly confident debut performance) take huge risks with Leigh-Anne by making her the most dislikeable protagonist of any British film since Tim Roth's skinhead Trevor in Alan Clarke's Made in Britain (ITV, tx. 10/7/1983). In addition to pimping a 14-year-old virgin to a middle-aged pervert, Leigh-Anne's explanation for everything bad that happens to her is usually viciously racist. She assumes that her inability to get more benefits from the council is down to being automatically at the back of the queue behind people with darker skin, refers to her Turkish neighbour Hassan (Oliver Haden) as a "Paki" and tells him to get out of her country (to which Hassan points out that he's been resident in Wales for nearly twice as long as she's been alive). Finally, she makes the literally fatal mistake of misinterpreting a routine conversation between him and Leigh-Anne's social worker as being evidence that he's informed on her to the authorities.

If the central narrative is occasionally melodramatic, the incidental details have a powerful cumulative effect. Gavin, Stephen and Robbie are each given detailed back-stories, and all three are in search of some kind of identity, whether it's Robbie's quest for a proper job, Gavin's romance with Hassan's daughter Julie (Sara Gregory) or the mixed-race Stephen's ultimately successful attempt to change his surname to one that sounds more Welsh. Brenda Blethyn makes brief appearances as Rebecca's concerned grandmother, whose sincere offers of help are angrily rebuffed by an ever-suspicious Leigh-Anne.

Her behaviour is never explicitly defended: although Leigh-Anne comes from a background of domestic violence and family rupture (her mother killed herself), so does Gavin, depicted as the best-adjusted of the quartet. But her overwhelming love for her daughter and panicked belief that the world is conspiring to take her away does at least give Leigh-Anne a plausible motive for her actions - even if they ultimately (and, tragically, inevitably) result in the outcome she most feared.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Better than telly (2:46)
2. Happy families (1:59)
3. At risk (3:14)
4. The aftermath (3:58)
Production stills
Bullet Boy (2004)
Made in Britain (1983)
Blethyn, Brenda (1946-)
Teen Terrors On Film