Michaela Coel, the Londoner best known for her TV series Chewing Gum, plays Simone, a hairdresser with no hair of her own to dress in new Netflix film, Been So Long. She is also a heartbreakingly devoted single mum, so keen to take care of her energetic little daughter that she’s got no time for love.
Steve McQueen’s new thriller, Widows, contains a character, Belle, with practically the same USP. Women like this could become a cliché. For now, it feels great to embrace a new breed: black, working-class mums capable of being funny, fierce and fragile.
One night, Simone meets a guy as sexually deprived as she is. Raymond (Arinzé Kene) is an ex-con who Simone and her libidinous best friend, Yvonne (Ronke Adekoluejo), meet in a bar. Simone chides Yvonne for salivating over the stranger. The film itself wants to create an Olympic-sized pool of drool. Kene’s excellent chest gets a lot of screen time.
Luckily, Raymond’s personality is just as compelling. He’s flawed, charming and faces real obstacles.
When Simone and Raymond start texting each other, we see the messages on screen. Simone asks about his relationship with his mother and he replies, “I love my mumsie”. Raymond feels like a real guy. Right from the off he’s worthy of Simone, just as the insanely talented Kene seems worthy of Coel.
Cool actors playing cool characters in a Camden that Londoners will recognise. What’s more, this is a musical, however Coel and Kene and, in fact, the whole cast possess good, rather than astounding, voices.
It’s often the lack of the polished West End-esque voices that is crucial to its appeal. Nonetheless, Arthur Darvill’s soulful songs and Tinge Krishnan’s direction still induce a warm glow.
Screenwriter Che Walker first wrote about these people in a 1998 play for the Royal Court before reworking the story in 2009 for the Young Vic (Kene played Raymond).
It’s been so long since Walker created Simone, Raymond and Yvonne. How nice to report that the characters have evolved beautifully.
Been So Long is on Netflix from 26 October 2018.