“What’s in a name?” grumbles a miffed Juliet Capulet at the realisation that she’s gone and fallen for the wrong guy, a Montague named Romeo. Press fast forward four hundred odd years and Shakespeare’s premise of “two star-crossed lovers” finds a new home in the most aesthetically pleasing South London estate you’re ever likely to see on screen. Life ‘n’ Lyrics, is former television director Richard Laxton’s debut feature film and an urban Romeo and Juliet that follows the feuds between rival gangs, The Motion Crew and The Hard Cash Crew.
Nodding to the rhythm and beats of an urban, hip hop soundtrack, Life ‘n’ Lyrics is a tale with deep moral intentions. It is a light, breezy portrait of black working-class life framed loosely around Shakespeare’s tragedy, but is dipped in such sugar-coated realism that the tale could only work by reaching an achingly sweet conclusion.
In Life ‘n’ Lyrics grannies wear brightly coloured tea cosy hats while wheeling their shopping baskets up the council block steps and a London is depicted where the sun sets and rises daily with a beautiful pinkish glow lighting up the peaceful looking council blocks. Laxton and his team have chosen to avoid a bleak, grim representation of life on London’s estates, and whether this is a good or bad decision is really down to preference. Their story of hope, life-affirmation and morale however is by its own merits a success. It does everything it says on the tin.
Ashley Walters (Bullet Boy/Stormbreaker), our modern day Romeo, plays Danny DJ Biz from The Motion Crew and was given Ken Williams‘ script while still in production of Saul Dibbs’ Bullet Boy. The portrait of black working-class life in East London raised the ex-So Solid Crew member to the status of hot, new British actor in 2004 and showed a bleak depiction of the gun and gang culture prevalent in the capital today.
Walters’ character in Life ‘n’ Lyrics however is far more cheery and relaxed. He wants to produce his own music but a mentality of, “good things don’t happen to people like us” hinders him. He’d rather hang out with his crew and challenge the Hard Cash gang to late night MC battles than pluck up the courage to follow his dreams. Things get no easier, when in the run up to the MIC Ma sters Competition he falls for the beautiful Carmen (Louise Rose), a singer from the rival crew.
Danny and Carmen steadily realise that the world’s they come from our different. Danny states with dread that his new girlfriend is “more an HMV, Virgin Megastore type” rather than an independent record enthusiast. Her affluent parent’s leafy sub-urban home is also a far cry from his difficult life on the estate. But, all the same this is a love story and the couple fall head-over-heels in a cheesy, let’s do a London open-top bus tour kind-of-a-way. When their affair challenges Danny’s relationships with his crew however all hell breaks loose, and their love is deemed an impossibility. “Blood” after all “is blood.”
Life ‘n’ Lyrics follows a formula the true cinephile may find tedious, but this slice of entertainment ticks all the right boxes in its pursuit to be just that. It is by no means the next Bullet Boy, but tries to retain some integrity in the nature of its exploration of real life on screen by employing a sub-plot through a character aptly named Fable. This gives the film a little more depth and balances out its frustratingly formulaic structure.