A fatally muddled tone means Been So Long ends up less than the sum of its parts, despite glorious lead performances from Arinzé Kene and Michaela Coel
“People don’t want inclusivity mate, they want exclusivity. And something for the gluten-intolerant”
I really wanted to like Been So Long, and can imagine it having worked well on the stage (it played the Young Vic in 2009) but something has definitely been lost in translation with this screen adaptation here. It is mildly curious as the film is written by Ché Walker, scribe of the original play and the subsequent stage musical, but maybe this was a step too far?
One of the main problems for me is that crucial issue of tone. As a love story set in contemporary Camden, and in which Camden plays a central role, there’s a tendency towards gritty naturalism, particularly in showing the home lives of its protagonists, new ex-con Raymond (Arinzé Kene) and single mum of a disabled daughter Simone (Michaela Coel).
But the kind of musical it wants to be is much more involved with magic realism, ribbons of modern choreography curling into scenes, glittery backing singers popping up elsewhere, and a hazy sense of attention to detail ricocheting us between these two worlds. So it proves hard to get too invested on this bewildering journey.
George Mackay’s Gil is entirely symptomatic of this. The film can’t decide if he’s deadly serious or comic relief, problematic already before you factor in his assumed mental health issues. And other supporting characters feel undernourished too, Luke Norris and Joe Dempsie doing their best regardless.
But there’s something about Kene and Coel that is just magical, charisma and connection just oozing off the screen even when there’s lazy plotting. Along with an excellent Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo as Simone’s sister, there’s certainly something to enjoy in Been So Long but it could have been so much more if it had decided just what it wanted to be.