Run: it’s grim down south

A recent Channel 4 drama titillates the audience with cliché-riddled tales of life on the streets of Brixton.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Editor

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Run, a four-part drama aired from Monday to Thursday last week on Channel 4, was pegged as the latest effort by the once-challenging broadcaster to promote fresh, young talent. But right from the off, it lapsed into age-old prejudices, more befitting a silver-topped commuter belter than a virulent voice of Generation Y.

Penned by Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan and Marlon Smith, and set in their native Brixton, south London, it interweaves the stories of four characters struggling to keep their head above water.

The first instalment told the story of a lonely single mother (Olivia Colman, speaking with an ill-fitting estuary twang), whose fractious family life is thrown into further disarray when her two layabout, zoot-puffing sons beat a man to death for, essentially, looking at them funny.

In its opening moments, the scene is set by a slew of tired clichés: her fake Gucci purse, the cheap lager she buys from a corner shop, and the trundling train passing over the viaduct in the distance – a constant reminder of which side of the tracks she dwells on, which is repeated ad nauseam across the four episodes.

The drama rests on her conflict between doing the right thing and doing right by her sons, but it is robbed of any meaning by the grimacing stereotypes she is trying to protect – both blithely unrepentant for the life they’ve taken up as they spew garbled sentences laced with out-dated slang. (Who calls £20 a ‘score’ anymore?) Scant mentions of their jobless woes make limp attempts at contextualising their alienation from civilised society in fashionable terms, but ultimately they are painted, with an almost Victorian disgust, as innately mindless and primal – passive recipients of bad influences, thinking, for instance, its fine to slap their Vicky Pollard-resembling other halves because of their absent father’s own abusive example.

Tuesday’s episode focused on Ying (Katie Leung, of Harry Potter fame), a young Chinese immigrant toiling to pay back the depraved mobster who smuggled her into the country. While a useful story in its unearthing of the pernicious illicit economies which a chirpy ‘You want DVD?’ side-street sales pitch belies, its overriding bleakness invites pity rather than understanding.

An astounding turn by Lennie James as recovering addict Richard makes part three worthy of a watch alone. The gentility he tries to maintain in the face of a family understandably hesitant about giving him a second chance and old friends trying to drag him back into old habits, makes for the only humane and hopeful portrait in the series.

By the concluding chapter, however, things backslide swiftly into the feckless fatalism of before – even cribbing episode two’s storyline as Kasia, a Polish cleaner, is dragged into the marriage-for-a-visa trade.

As Fajemisin-Duncan and Smith attempt to hamfistedly guide the plot back full circle, their inexperience becomes painfully apparent, but that’s no excuse. Rather than exploring the complex and often difficult reality of poverty in austerity-struck Britain, Run only stereotypes and demonises its subjects – offering up an all-you-can-stomach smorgasbord of inner city no-hopers to ogle at.

In a word: shameless.

Tom Slater is culture editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_ and read his blog: thomasslater.tumblr.com.

Watch Run on 4OD here.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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