This year’s London Film Festival saw Best British Newcomer go to Sally El Hosaini for her confident debut feature, My Brother The Devil. Already garlanded with prizes at Sundance and Outfest, her Hackney-set story of East London gangsters marks the arrival of a major talent.
The son of Egyptian immigrants, 14-year-old Mo (Fady Elsayed) idolises his older brother, Rashid (James Floyd), whose small-time drug dealing for a local gang provides a surreptitious form of income that’s quietly slipped into their mother’s purse without being spoken of. When one of Rashid’s closest friends is killed by a rival gang, and his friends begin to show an interest in initiating Mo into the group, events take a downward turn. As Mo is drawn into a way of life that might be impossible to turn back from, Rashid has other avenues open up for him, namely a job with a Muslim photographer, Said.
British filmmaking has a long-standing relationship with films about London gangsters, but Hosaini, who also wrote the screenplay, isn’t interested in genre conventions. Instead of privileging supposed gritty content and subject matter, she allows ambiguities and tensions of both race and sexuality to protrude into what would be, in less capable hands, a more straightforward cautionary tale. The decision to film as much in the sunlight as during the night means that Hackney has seldom looked more beautiful, and her depiction of life on an East London housing estate neither condescends to its audience nor those people the film depicts. Hosaini is ably assisted by the naturalistic performances she coaxes from her young cast, especially James Floyd, who masters a tricky role with the dexterity of a seasoned pro. A real gem of a film.
My Brother The Devil aired as part of this year’s London Film Festival. There is a special preview at the BFI on Tuesday 30 November, and you can buy tickets here. The film opens nationwide on Friday 9 November.