A bleak story of troubled teenagers in a care home - most but not all of them black - Storm Damage (BBC, tx. 23/1/2000) is among the most powerful television dramas of recent years.
At the centre of the film is a battle for the future of young, unruly Stefan (Ashley Walters) fought between cool gangster Bonaface (Lennie James) and idealistic teacher Danny (Adrian Lester), himself a former resident of the home.
The film was written by actor Lennie James and was closely based on his own experiences. James was fostered after some time in a council-run home following the death of his mother. His foster mother subsequently set up a children's home, and James helped out while training to be an actor, but found the going difficult: "it was just relentless and you felt like you were riding this wild bull and had to hang on for dear life", he told an interviewer. The character of Danny is clearly modelled on James himself.
Directed by Simon Cellan Jones (whose previous work includes Cracker and Our Friends in the North), Storm Damage avoids simple moralising about the lives of its young protaganists. It offers no easy solutions, and is frank about their mistakes, presenting underage sex, drug abuse and criminality as part of their everyday experience. The children are the product of their upbringing and their abandonment by inadequate parents and an uncaring education system. Despite the best efforts of the determined Agnes (Mona Hammond), the home's benevolent mother figure, the odds are stacked against them. The result is a tough, pessimistic, but deeply moving drama.
Storm Damage is remarkable for the passion and energy of its 'street' dialogue, and for its performances. For authenticity, the production avoided drama school students for the young parts, and the result was a series of strikingly fresh and convincing performances, particularly from Ashley Walters as the uncontrollable Stefan and Jackie Williams as the lively Massive. The adult players, including Adrian Lester (a regular of the Royal Shakespeare Company, who recently played Hamlet on stage), James himself, and Mona Hammond as the formidable Agnes are all impressive.
In a tragic epilogue to the film, Ashley Walters, who had since found greater fame as Asher D of the garage music collective So Solid Crew, was convicted in 2002 of firearms offences and sentenced to 18 months in prison.