Obey is an intimate drama in which socioeconomic forces offer no hope or justice to society's most defenceless
Leon, a 19-year-old black East Londoner who has recently moved back in with his alcoholic mother after time in social services, attempts to find his place in his estate community. He befriends a free-spirited, hard-partying white girl named Twiggy who squats in an abandoned building nearby. As their relationship develops, the 2011 Tottenham riots threaten to turn everyone’s existences on their heads.
Marcus Rutherford, who is almost always present on screen, carries the narrative with skill and grace. His Leon is an observer, a dreamer, and keenly aware of what he wants from life. When these ideals come crashing down, the wreckage is harrowing. The film’s other characters are not afforded the same development and depth, but as Leon is the heart and soul of this piece the omission is not horribly glaring.
Sophie Kennedy Clark makes it clear that Twiggy’s world is a carefully constructed fantasy even before its reality is revealed, though she does not get much to do aside from act out this fantasy. T’nia Miller also deserves special mention for a nuanced performance as Chelsea, Leon’s mum. By turns abrasive and vulnerable, she shows a life Leon is still too naïve to see. An exchange with Twiggy two-thirds of the way through speaks volumes about their different experiences in the same city.
The film’s first 50 minutes are largely set-up, with only brief glimpses of potential conflicts simmering beneath the surface. Once Leon’s life reaches a tipping point, the pace picks up and characters are pushed to breaking. The choices Leon and Twiggy can and do make when faced with police action, uncertain home lives and control of their futures highlight the inherent inequalities of their situations. The resulting actions hit hard.
While sometimes slow, Obey provokes thought and stays compelling thanks to Rutherford’s quiet magnetism. The raw final shot will linger with audiences long after the credits roll.
Obey screen at Edinburgh International Film Festival on 27 & 29 Jun – more info and tickets here
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