Netflix’s slew of original films over the past few years have been on the whole, well received – unless you’re part of the Cannes Film Festival administration of course – but until recently they hadn’t produced a musical. Enter Been So Long, a joyful, complex and colourful exploration of love and life in London in 2018, based on the play of the same name by Ché Walker.
Simone (the always excellent and hypnotising Michaela Coel) is a single mother whose life revolves around her daughter and her job at the local hair shop, with little to no time spent on herself. After being forced on a night out by her vivacious friend Yvonne (Ronke Adekoluejo), she meets Raymond (Arinzé Kene) a good-looking man trying to find his place in life after being released from prison.
The mise-en-scene of this film is simply beautiful – neon lights illuminate the night’s sky of Camden Town, each shot is filled with colour and vibrancy and the occasional lens flare which only serves to add to the element of magical realism that peppers the screenplay. The lighting itself is also excellent, Coel and Kene practically glow under the direction of DOP Catherine Derry. London is shown at it’s best – forget the overwhelmingly white, posh London that Richard Curtis films have portrayed for the past twenty years. This is the real London, complex, diverse and full of life.
Micheala Coel simply dominates the screen in every scene she is in. An award-winning actress, she plays vulnerability and strength in the same breath, the emotional heart of the film who is allowed to make mistakes. And that is an opportunity that is rarely given to women, let alone black women in film. Her friendship with Yvonne is also one of those rare beasts – female friendship on screen that is funny and complicated and rude in the best way.
That’s not to say that the film is perfect, there is a distracting subplot involving a young man called Gil (George MacKay) with severe mental illness who stalks Raymond for a perceived offence several years prior which is forgotten about for the majority of the film and then resolved suddenly towards the end.
Overall, it’s an interesting and sweet film that deserves a watch. And what better way to champion innovative and diverse British film than a cosy evening in watching Netflix on these cold winter nights?