Marking the directorial debuts of British filmmaker Kibwe Tavares and Academy Award winner Daniel Kaluuya, The Kitchen stars a relatively unknown British cast in a science-fiction drama set in a dystopian London. The city is experiencing a housing crisis with all but one social housing area being eliminated. The only one standing is known as the Kitchen – a run-down area full of resilient residents who refuse to leave despite regular police raids. The Kitchen focuses on the relationship of Izi (Kane Robinson, also known as Kano), a loner who aspires to “escape” the Kitchen, and Benji (Jedaiah Bannerman), a youngster who is mourning his mother.
Spurred on by the daily radio broadcasts by DJ Lord Kitchener (Ian Wright), the close-knit community of the Kitchen imbues a comfort and authenticity that is otherwise rare in the city now dominated by bland, “high-spec” housing for those with money. Meanwhile, residents of the Kitchen are regarded as squatters, who have to fight to save their home.
Tavares and Kaluuya’s raw direction brilliantly incorporates Wyatt Garfield’s cinematography and Nathan Parker’s production design to emphasise the scale of London’s classist attitude through wide cityscapes and a blend of industrial and contemporary architecture, visually reinforcing the social and economic divides among Londoners. Even though the majority of the film follows the Kitchen community, the narrative highlights those who rely on social housing (specifically, the Kitchen) to survive and who can afford to leave it.
This dilemma strikes a chord with Izi, a Kitchen resident who relies on commissions at his job at a funeral home to pay for a deposit at Buena Vida, a new-build housing complex. He subtly wants the finer things in life but finds himself conflicted when he meets Benji, who finds himself drawn to a local gang when his mum passes away. The dynamic between the two feels like chalk and cheese – Izi wants to escape when Benji just wants to belong – but their common need for companionship helps drive the narrative.
Thanks to Kano and Bannerman’s tender performances, the endearing relationship between their respective characters provides the film’s beating heart as they both strive for a better life while navigating through their fraught new-found rapport. Hope Ikpoku Jnr’s compassionate gang leader Staples occasionally threatens the course of their relationship but instead uses his strong presence to represent a beacon of rebellion for the Kitchen.
Although The Kitchen places London in a distant yet relatable future (with sci-fi-inspired elements such as futuristic technology and a funeral home with an ecological mindset), there is a culturally rich charm imbued through the production design. The Kitchen has a vibrancy emanating from its street stalls and eclectic music, as well as a side of pride among the residents despite being of different cultures. Each resident shares a feeling of belonging somewhere and a fear of this disappearing with the “destruction” of the Kitchen – a facet beautifully conveyed during an emotionally charged funeral scene.
Co-written by Kaluuya, Joe Murtagh and Rob Hayes, the screenplay takes care to retain the narrative’s relatability through strong albeit triggering dialogue that highlights the desperation and fear of the Kitchen residents while bringing a tenderness between Benji and Izi, especially when it comes to the former’s late mother.
Although there are some unrefined elements in terms of consistency and character development, The Kitchen is a striking yet evocative debut from Tavares and Kaluuya with its bold themes and visual style, putting London front and centre.
Director: Daniel Kaluuya, Kibwe Tavares (co-directors); Daniel Kaluuya, Joe Murtagh (co-screenwriters)
Stars: Kane Robinson, Jedaiah Bannerman, Hope Ikpoku Jnr, Fiona Marr
Runtime: 104 minutes