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Black Joy
cast: Norman Beaton, Trevor Thomas, Floella Benjamin, Paul Medford, and Dawn Hope

director: Anthony Simmons

97 minutes (15) 1977 widescreen ratio 16:9
Fremantle DVD Region 2 retail
[released 8 August]

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
1970s' London: innocent Guyanan immigrant Ben (Trevor Thomas) arrives to look for his relatives, only to find himself alone and adrift in the big city. As if the indifference and blatant racism of the white community wasn't bad enough, the black community seem just as determined to rob and exploit him. Falling in with lovable rogue Dave (Norman Beaton), Ben starts to master city life, and falls in love with the haughty Safar (Dawn Hope). But in order to win her, he's going to have to be just as crafty as the increasingly out-of-control Dave...

This 1977 adaptation of a stageplay by Jamal Ali is an odd mixture of the bitterly accurate and the curiously romanticised, with an attempt at the glamour of US blaxploitation movies thrown in (see the accompanying trailer, which seems to think the movie is 'Shaft 2'). In fact, it's a simple fable about the corruption of innocence in the big city, which benefits from its strong period atmosphere, documenting a London that has changed almost beyond recognition in the intervening decades.

In retrospect, the characters have an air of cliché about them, which isn't improved by occasionally shaky accents, but a strong cast make them convincing anyway (and compared to other representations of black Britons at the time, this is practically documentary realism). Paul Medford, as the sassy, light-fingered offspring of Dave's feisty girlfriend (a splendid Floella Benjamin), deserves a special mention.

Black Joy is an entertaining curiosity with a slight political edge, a social document with a sense of humour and a heart. The plotting is distinctly languid, the coincidences and happy outcomes unlikely, but it's essential viewing for anyone interested in black British history or 1970s' filmmaking, and well worth a look even if you're not.
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