SE1: Welcome to Hell, or SE1: Evans’ Baby, is a film that explores gang culture on London’s streets and is, according to the blurb, set in the ‘run up to the London riots’ of 2011, which saw a pseudo-political uprising that rapidly descended into looting, vandalism and violence on a scale rarely seen in the United Kingdom.
Whilst Evans wants a better life from himself, especially considering the success of his brother and the disappointment of his mother, he’s stuck in a rut and must continue to sell drugs in order to support his baby. Things aren’t going particularly well and take a turn for the worse when his stash and weapon are stolen by the local bad boy, Basil.
Told partly in a non-linear narrative with an almost poetic voiceover, Evans’ story is a dark one that’s tainted by the character’s emotion and intelligence in a world where neither is particularly respected. Women and drugs are commodities, whereas money and violence hold equal sway as the currencies of the streets.
As Evans has to survive, he suffers the judgement of his peers and contemporaries, whilst trying to reach the end of each day and remain the most reliable constant in the lives of those around him. Sadly, for Evans, it’s when he crosses Science that his world really comes to a halt and reality strikes.
In what way, I hear you ask, is this about the London riots? Well, it isn’t. The cover may sport a shot of a hooded figure before a burnt out car, but that’s about it. There’s no hint in the 90 minute run-time that this even related those events.
The various characters are written with more ego than self-esteem, trading violence and sex for a stake in the world around them. Most of the women are objectified, whilst most of the men are hyper-masculine with little in the way of moral conscience. It’s difficult to like any of the characters, though Science and Evans are as close to likeable as this film will allow.
It’s hard to like SE1 as it doesn’t have the flare or panache of similar films. The acting, it has to be said, is far better than the script, though some characters come across as lifeless. Far and away the most convincing actor is Christopher Tajah, as Science, who questions the motives of the lead characters and adds sense to their world. Ty Bankinson has the thankless task of Evans, as he goes from a man in difficulties wasting his life to… a man in difficulties wasting his life.
It’s quite difficult to divine the cliché and stereotype from any real-world representation. The film claims to reveal ‘the shocking truth about London’s gang culture’ but, if it does, it does so in a way that wouldn’t seem out of place in a poorly conceived soap. The impact of the film is lessened when you consider the abundance of far more satisfying and accessible examples of this genre in film and television.
In the hands of a more capable writer and director, the film certainly wouldn’t be as academically constructed, with some of the actors able to deliver good performances but hampered by ropey dialogue overloaded with exposition and some bafflingly bad camera work. Some exchanges are interminably dull and lead nowhere, whilst some scenes appear to have been thrown together or, at the very least, improvised. Even the soundtrack is ponderous as we get piano and strings building to various key moments in a TV movie fashion, or nondescript hip-hop filling in gaps.
The sound quality isn’t great in places, and the same can be said of the picture, which suffers from being occasionally overly dark (and not for dramatic purposes). Low budget definitely shouldn’t mean low expectation, yet this film manages to disappoint in a variety of areas. Suffice to say, it is one of those examples of a film where the acting is superior to the production.
There are no trailers, no commentary, no behind the scenes here, just the film. The disc features the film, and that’s it! It could, of course, be an ironic marketing tool, a disc that feels as empty as the film.