I sat down recently with Jamie Jones and Sophie Kennedy Clark, the director and lead actress of what was undoubtedly one of the best films of the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year: the brilliant, brutal Obey. During our chat, we talked extensively about the hotly-debated topic of gentrification in London, in which Jones told me that he, himself, “saw the transition towards gentrification in Hackney” and laments on probably having “been a part of it himself”. As we talked, both he and Kennedy Clark lamented on the culture clash that is often found in London these days and the uniqueness of the city. “You have these huge high-rises, massive estates, right next to the most expensive houses! You get gang crime and you get people sitting drinking champagne and Peach Bellini’s in London fields.” Indeed, Jones even told me of a story of gentrification that he had once been involved in himself: “All these hipsters, I was amongst them, we were all just sat drinking champagne, the sun was shining and then we just heard a gunshot and a helicopter comes down and somebody was shot in the leg, and it just happened right next to us!” These sorts of opposing moments are found all throughout Obey, scattered across the film in various different manners, from individual scenes to the presentation of characters such as Kennedy Clark’s Twiggy and her band of bohemian friends squatting alongside Leon’s estate.
As of late, there has been a steady increase in the depiction of working-class life in British cinema – from Andrea Arnold’s stark, stunning Fish Tank to Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or winning critique of austerity in I, Daniel Blake. Both of these films have been excellent, and both have felt incredibly brave in their willingness to honestly portray life for Britain’s working-classes under a Conservative government – one which has repeatedly mistreated the most financially vulnerable in the wake of the recession that came in 2008. As fantastic as I, Daniel Blake and Fish Tank are, however, they primarily focus on examining the lives of white characters; few films have set out to explore the experiences of those that are both working-class and black. This particular demographic has largely been ignored in British cinema, despite the rise in the number of stories of the working-classes that have been told lately, so it gives me pleasure to be able to say that Obey, the feature-length debut of director Jamie Jones, is not afraid to tackle such a subject. Obey is an emotionally raw, accomplished piece that consistently succeeds in attempting to give an honest depiction of the reality that this specific community is faced with.