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« DVD Review: Christiane F. (1981) | Main | Coming to DVD and Blu-ray: Privilege (1967) »

DVD Review: Young Soul Rebels (1991)


Young Soul Rebels as a film I steered cleared of when it was released back in the early 90s. Yes, it ticked a few interesting boxes - soul music, a mixing pot of youth cultures at a turbulent time in British history, a decent plot on the face of it - but the critics were harsh and to be honest, they're rarely too wide of the mark. Saying that, time can often by kind to movies - is it the case here? Well, yes and no.

Directed by Isaac Julien and set in the summer of 1977, Young Soul Rebels focuses on two friends and pirate radio DJs (Chris and Caz, played by Valentine Nonyela and Mo Sesay respectively), one straight, one gay and both with ambitions as soul DJs, although not necessarily in the same direction. But the story kicks off in a park - whilst listening to the radio show, a young gay black man called TJ is murdered by a stranger, his radio cassette player stolen and dumped. The police are on the hunt for the killer, a hunt that will eventually take them (wrongly) to Chris.

But Chris (and indeed Caz) have other things on their mind. Chris wants to DJ on a leading station, hooking up with industry insider Tracy (Sophie Okonedo) in the process. Caz them starts a relationship with political activist and punk Billibud (Jason Durr), while both of them run the gauntlet of abuse from the estate's local skinheads. The friendship of the two 'Soul Patrol' DJs is stretched by their respective pairings and when Chris goes in the frame for the murder of TJ, he's on his own to fight it - just as well he has a tape that could save him and incriminate someone they both know well.

Plot-wise, Young Soul Rebels is a winner overall. I was drawn in by both the story and the relationship between the main characters, helped along by a top-notch soundtrack that mixes soul, funk and '77-era punk. In some ways, you can't ask for much more from a film that the director (in the booklet) claims is intended more as entertainment than historical document or political statement.

But it's a film not without its flaws. At times, it's very contrived and over-stylised, the cartoon punks are only matched by the cartoon skinheads and as for the killer? Well, you might guess, but you're probably none the wiser why he's the killer by the end of the movie. But they're not the biggest problems. The love affairs in the movie at times detract from the main story (and to be honest, neither are all that believable) and despite Isaac Julien's claim's that the film is entertainment over all else, you do get the feeling that there's a bit of political and social point scoring going on here. At times it works well, but on other occasions, it just seems a little too heavy handed.

So we're left with an interesting, entertaining, but far from fully successful movie. One to rent or borrow for sure, but I'm not sure it's something you'll keep going back to Young Soul Rebels if you buy it. The soundtrack on the other hand - well, that's something worth picking up.

Find out more about the DVD at the Amazon website


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