There is a rich history of social-realistic filmmaking in the UK, although very few have prominently featured Black characters. Directed, written by, and starring Aki Omoshaybi, Real offers a pleasing change of perspective in that regard, developing the relationship of a young Black couple as they attempt to navigate their personal struggles while figuring out a future together. There is no focus on race or any of the conflict it may bring to their worlds, allowing them to be defined only by their lives and actions.
Omoshaybi based the film partly on his own experiences, placing the story in Portsmouth with the smooth-talking Kyle (Omoshaybi) arriving under a shroud of mystery to stay with his mother, who is reluctantly giving him a roof over his head for a few weeks. Jamie (Pippa Bennett-Warner) has a 7-year-old son to take care of and barely any money to feed him. The two meet in a local shop, Jamie believing he works as a solicitor and Kyle in no hurry to tell her otherwise. Their relationship develops, although it is far from plain sailing.
While the set-up is simple, there’s a lot going on in Real, which is probably the film’s biggest issue, meshing together too many ideas in a short space of time, which eventually affects the whole. Kyle’s troubled relationship with his mother is rooted in childhood trauma, while he’s down on his luck looking for a job, not long out of prison and involved with a drug-dealing cousin. Jamie has her own issues: out of work and money, while also a recovering alcoholic, fending off social services and avoiding a problematic mother. And, of course, Kyle and Jamie are spending more time together. Omoshaybi wants to show the baggage we all carry into relationships, but it’s a job made all the harder with a run time of only 75 minutes.
The weight of baring so many issues leads us towards a final act that is rushed and inconclusive, with much left unresolved, and some awkward plot coincidences do not help the film’s overall authenticity. But what keeps Real on the right track are the relaxed performances from both Omoshaybi and Bennett-Warner, who despite the over-written nature of their characters, feel grounded and genuine when we observe them simply talking and learning more about each other.
It’s the moments spent away from the melodrama and plot mechanics that bring forward the film’s better qualities, its down-to-earth simplicity – shot without fuss by Michael Edo Keane – and likeability of the leads (Bennett-Warner in particular stands out) making it a British working class drama worth seeking out. While the story being told isn’t done effectively enough to leave a lasting mark post-credits, nonetheless, there’s no denying it has a heartfelt earnestness that shines through.
Real is released in select cinemas and on digital from September 11.