At last: a gripping Brit flick that will stand the test of time

Just back from a preview screening of ‘City of Tiny Lights’, a new British crime thriller directed by Pete Travis and written by Patrick Neate, based upon the latter’s 2005 novel of the same name. Now, the words “British crime thriller” can cover a whole multitude of sins, and I was slightly apprehensive about what might be in store, having watched enough British gangster movies to last me a lifetime (and then some).

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. This film has a lot going for it – it’s well written, with moments of genuine tension and also some wickedly dark humour. True, there are some clichéd moments, but these are more than compensated for by the performances of the uniformly excellent cast. Riz Ahmed plays Tommy Akhtar, a London-based private detective with (needless to say) a painful past and uncertain future. Riz is still in love with his childhood sweetheart Shelley, played by Billie Piper, who comes back into his life at the beginning of the film. To say that her reappearance is the least of his troubles would be an understatement; kidnapping, murders and all sorts of other mayhem ensue.

City of Tiny Lights 02

I’m so impressed by Billie Piper. I love how she’s reinvented herself as a highly versatile actress (the days of “Because We Want To” seem like a distant memory now, don’t they?) not just on the screen, but also on stage – she’s incredibly watchable in both mediums. In truth, though, this is Riz Ahmed’s film. Present in virtually every scene, as well as doing the voice-over, his is a performance that will stay with me for a very long time. A special mention also goes to Roshan Seth, who plays Tommy’s father, Farzad – the scenes involving the two of them are poignant, funny and, most importantly, believable.

I also liked how the film doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects, instead shining a spotlight on the seedy underbelly of London which we would probably all prefer to pretend does not exist. All in all, a very satisfying couple of hours’ viewing – with a neat twist at the end.

P.S. It was a great location, too, for the screening: the Rio Cinema, in Dalston. Over 100 years old, this fabulous art deco building was once an auctioneer’s shop owned by a pioneering business woman called Clara Ludski. In 1909, she converted the shop into one of London’s very first cinemas; over the years, the cinema has undergone a number of incarnations, but since 1979 has been run as a not-for-profit registered charity with an elected board of local people who act as volunteer trustees. Now a Grade II-listed building, complete with its very own bus stop, the Rio Cinema is – happily for me – a brisk 20 minutes’ walk from where I live and I will definitely return. Those home-made white chocolate & macadamia cookies have my name upon them.

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