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Top Boy, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Top Boy, Channel 4

Top Boy, Channel 4

Ronan Bennett's bitter, brutal and brilliant East End gangland saga

Boys in the 'hood: (left to right) Ra'Nell (Malcolm Kamulete), Dushane (Ashley Walters), Sully (Kane Robinson) and Gem (Giacomo Mancini)

One striking fact about Ronan Bennett's punishing four-part East End gang drama is that, so far, there hasn't been any sign of a policeman. No scruffy, down-at-heel detective with a chip on his shoulder, no thuggish Flying Squad heavies, and certainly no Wagner-loving aesthete who goes around quoting Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Instead, Top Boy exists exclusively in its own sealed environment of violence, fear and dog-eat-dog ambition, where being sucked into gangland drug-dealing is the only option that bears any resemblance to a career ladder. Let's face it, how many kids can hope to get trials with West Ham United? As chief protagonist and aspiring dope potentate Dushane (a superb Ashley Walters) puts it: "I haven't anything to be except this." In the mostly black families living on high-rise housing estates, from where they can see the fat-cat towers of Canary Wharf sticking up like raised digits in the distance, the cycle of single mothers and children casually abandoned by their fathers is the anti-gift that keeps on taking, creating a demoralising vortex of welfare dependency and seething frustration.

But Bennett's feat is that he hasn't written Top Boy as a liberal cri de cœur or a Hackney social workers' manifesto. He has simply depicted a hideously believable environment and peopled it with brutally plausible characters, to the point where you could cry at the realisation that chunks of our dilapidated nation really look like this. Inventive colour grading and Brian Eno's coolly evocative music lend the project a cinematic weight.

At first I didn't think I was going to get on with it very well, since I couldn't understand anything anybody was saying for the first 15 minutes. Not only was all the dialogue delivered in gangsta/jafaican/ghetto/whatever, the sound also seemed to have been deliberately mixed into a sub-audible murk. The cavalry arrived in the heavily pregnant shape of Romford's finest, Kierston Wareing (pictured above with Malcolm Kamulete) as Heather, holding forth in strident Essex Girl as she embarked on a path of (she hoped) life-changing crime by nurturing a flat full of marijuana plants. This was at the behest of an insistent Vietnamese gentleman who promised her "very good price" for her leafy crop.

But Heather has been designed almost as comic relief from the dark end of the story, in which Dushane and his buddy Sully (Kane Robinson) take the decision to claw their way up the drug hierarchy on east London's imaginary Summerhouse estate.

geoff bellThis means they have to go into battle with turf-war rival Kamale (Tayo Jarrett) and make nice to menacing cockney kingpin Bobby Raikes (Geoff Bell, pictured left), who utters unspeakable threats in a voice reeking of jellied eels and blunt instruments.

The violence has escalated remorselessly from beatings and amputating fingers with secateurs to stabbings, live burials and shootings, but Bennett has managed to delineate some shades of grey in his characters. Dushane still holds onto some shreds of decency and can differentiate between necessary and gratuitous violence, and even granted his old mum's wish by going to church with her. Sully, by contrast, turns ever uglier as the stakes grow higher.

nicholas pinnockTheir story is paralleled by the experiences of a group of kids a generation younger, revolving around 13-year-old Ra'Nell (Malcolm Kamulete). His single mum Lisa (Sharon Duncan Brewster) has been hospitalised - in a remarkably luxurious-looking facility - for depression, leaving Ra'Nell to fend for himself. He's given help and protection by Leon (Nicholas Pinnock, pictured right), apparently the only adult male for miles around who understands the notions of hard work, discipline and self-respect.

Leon is trying to keep Ra'Nell from being lured onto Dushane's escalator of crime, and we've seen it all go bad for Ra'Nell's white friend Gem (Giacomo Mancini), who was flattered by the gang-bangers' attentions until he suffered a near-death experience after being suspected of being a snitch for the enemy crew. It looks as if Ra'Nell has seen the light and has the strength of character to, er, just say no. In tonight's fourth and final instalment, we'll find out if they'll let him.

Bennett hasn't written a Hackney social workers' manifesto, but has simply depicted a hideously believable environment and peopled it with brutally plausible characters

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This is a brilliant review.... This is a true reflection of what happens in our inner city. The only point I will disagree with, is that top boy seems to be suggesting the only option of progress in these areas is a drug career. There allot of young people with the hoodie and track suit look but are doing very positive things, very educated and have good jobs. Though it is a small percentage, it should be acknowledged. This show should be seen as documentary (though fictional) and not simply entertainment. My heart cry out as I watch the episodes as I know what is taking place is not a joke.

The language/dialogue in Top Boy is spot on. As someone who grew up 'in the ends' I find myself laughing at how realistic a lot of this feels. Performance-wise this is some of Ashley Walter' best work. As far as social commentary, Top Boy goes a long way in undoing the mess of Kidulthood/Adulthood. My hat goes off to Bennett.

i think gem is gonna kill dem. dushane and sully that is, you cant bang a mans dog like that, jar rule, repect and mercy to marley x

Borrows heavily off The Wire....from the kid Ra'Nell (Michael - The Wire) being offered money from the top dog (Marlon) early in episode one and his friend then taking it, to Leon being a shameful ripoff of the character Cutty (who tries to look after the character Michael in The Wire). You could even say The Greek from The Wire is the character who is played by the actor out of The Business. It's a good TV series, but it's influences are too heavy.

Give it a rest. They are the only two shows of their type. Naturally there are going to be similarities. Top boy has a different pace and vibe. Both great shows but the wire was a big picture were as top boy is a lot more intimate. Have you considered older been there done that head watches out for youngin who is being scouted by the young adult gangsters being a common theme in both because it's real? Something to consider. The corner which was the wires miniseries predecessor is a more accurate comparison but, ya know, what the other guy said about Shakespeare and stuff

If it borrows heavily from the Wire, it has chosen a great programme to pick from. But there is no humour, no police and no hope, unlike the Wire. Also, the Wire took didn't just borrow, it stole from the great, Homicide Life on the Streets, taking setting, storylines, actors, dialogue and scenes. But so what, most drama borrows from early literature, particularly Greek tragedy and Shakespeare. Top Boy is excellent.

This is a very good review of the series, and as stated by someone earlier the dialogue is easy to understand if you have grew up in the 'East End', it is also very similar to what is happening in the east end at the moment, with shootings, stabbings and general violence going on throughout the streets, some areas have been influenced by the American gangs the 'Bloods and the Crips' and are now fighting over who is the strongest area, which in my view is Pointless. I can Relate the series to real life because i have grew up around it, but that doesnt mean im a Street Thug or a Drug Dealer. You (the Reviewer) stated that there is not a police officer in sight, and as i said this is very much like real life in the 'rougher boroughs' of the east end. I live approx 250 yards from a Police station and yet i have witnessed full 70 'man' riots without a police officer or car in sight, and then when they finally do turn up everybody has gone leaving a blood trail in every direction. Certain people believe that the series is just a program to watch for entertainment, but i believe that the series should be based on real life issues as this sort of stuff IS really happening. Some people will not stop at anything to gain power, shown in the episode by Sully who doesnt think twice about killing someone to get what he wants, where as Dushane is reluctant to kill someone and is clearly affected by the death of Kamales Cousin.

I think Top Boy is an exellent drama that shows the REAL everyday life of these boys. I LOVE THE PROGRAM! I cant wait for the finale today. I also thought it was really sad when they killed Kamale's cousin as he wasnt involved as well as the dog!!!:(

wicked, why are the best programmes only on for a short time, alot more people would tune in to eastenders if it was actually based on real live s..t like this

Top Boy is mild entertainment for me. What I see, i this series is yet another negative portrayal of young black youth. How about C4 showing something that will portray a positive portrayal of our young black youth and inspire the young in a good way?. Such a thing is a rareity. I know that Top Boys depicts a reality of the life lived by some but not all, but I feel it only assists to further reinforce negative stereotypes of young black males, in our society. Despite this, I will be catching up with tonights finale..

Get over yourself mate. Its not about that. Nobody really cares if its about blacks, whites or whoever else. Its just a good thriller. Its not a campaign or a moral story and its not 1965 anymore. Get rid of that chip on your shoulder. Chill. Forget about it, you'll only work yourself up. It is what it is because thats how they wanted it to be. Safe... enjoy the finale

But half of the characters arent black, so your argument is redundant. The portrayal of an underground gangster lifestyle is a cliche at the moment, albeit one which sells to the youth whether it is glamorising it or not. Yet that's not to say it is taking a swipe at a particular colour or nationality; it's a class based portrayal. And shouldn't your statement about a need for a "positive portrayal of our young black youth" be called into question? There is a negative portrayal of a proportion of British youth entirely, not purely in regard to a single set of people. The riots in August don't do much to inspire Channel 4 to make a happy program about children going to school, getting A levels and being well behaved; it wouldn't sell. Desolation, action and ruthless aggression in a semi-believable environment are the fruits of a successful Channel 4 program.

Well i'm sure nobody came away fro it thinking "wow, drug dealing seems to be the way forward!" it wasn't a series glamourising the lifestyle, in fact quite the opposite. the message was these kind of people are no good, keep away from them and be your own person. as well as that, there were good lessons in loyalty but with the notion to always put yourself first in the end It was a realistic portrayal of some areas in London, and there was of course Leon, a positive example for not just blacks but anyone growing up in such an environment.

Can this type of story not be told for fear of offending? There are plenty of positive black stories. This is a negative story that just happens to take place in a black community. Stop being a victim and write your own positive black story if you're so concerned. Good television is good television drop the race card.

I Think Top Boy Is The Best Program That Has Ever Been On tv But Why Do They Always End The Best Things So Soon And If It Does Back On Channel 4 Keep It On Channel 4 Dont Change Chanells like So People Do Eg Channel 5 Sell Walking Dead Now Its An AMC Or Something Like That I Hope It Starts Again Asher D Is A Excellent Actor

Topboy is one of the best things i've seen this year, pure entertainment! its a shame it ended so quickly! need to bring it back!

topboy was a brilliant four day thriller, which i found very exciting. i think the programme had a good story line, but it should have definatley not lasted four days as it was well good and there is nothing better to watch. The actors played their characters well. i hope it concludes again in the future.

can anybody tell me what the song was they played at the end of the fourth episode ? thanking you in advance paul

Last track Ep.4... Charles Bradley - The World (Is Going Up In Flames) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moiUyFQQE-0

You mean the instrumental that builds? Its by - Fuck Buttons - Sweet love for planet earth ^lol enjoy

i cant beleive this was allowed to be so short! this is by far the best thing i have watched in a long long time! this created a big buzz to say the least in my network of friends! even the people who dont useually like that type of thing couldnt help but get drawn in by the hype and ended up loving it! i can only hope the writer has more for us! i would like to see this as a regular show as im left craving more as are so many others! this could be the next big thing! i hope the right people read this message and the many others and take note of what a hit show this would be! this in my eyes is the future of series hits! i hope im not disapointed!

Couldnt agree more! My hope is that hbo would outbid bbc so we cand 12 eps a season as opposed to bbc's 6. There is no doubt that the networks will be fighting over this one. Let's just hope Ronan is willing to commit to this story

Mint program, anyone know the name of the sont from ep 4, before the last song, it's a strange sog but i need to know

id like to know the name of that song as well, if its the same one you mean- not the one thta plays in the credits but the instrumental track that builds into something very loud, its been used a few times in top boy and was used near the end of episode 4 when ranell is about to try and stab dushane. thanks

Yeah thats the one i mean, need it for a set im doing, NEED TO FIND IT!!!!

I have been looking for that track myself,I know the score was by Brian Eno but cant find the specific track anywhere

It's the one that get's louder, sounds like distort and static, would make a sick intro to a set im doing..

I loved Leon!!!! Where else can we see this great actor?????? I think his role should have had more importance in the film. there was a lot more to tell about his story, probably the only good example for kids to follow.

a fantastic ,realistic program on what some parts of life are like. hope there will be more episodes to follow!!!an

Thanks to this string of comments on this here webpage, I finally discovered what that music used in episodes 2 and 4 - the tinkly-tinkly and staticy-noisy song by Fuck Buttons (what a name!) - was, so I'm going to try discovering what another one of the pieces of music was by asking anyone who sees this, and/or knows the answer: What IS that music used in episode 4, during the part where Ra'Nell is on his way to bring the drugs to Dushane? That repetitive 4 note electronic music that increases in intensity and has added drums to it as it continues to build up the horrible tension, before it ended just as Ra'Nell ran into Sully? Is that source music that someone else did, or is it some of Brian Eno's original score? If anyone knows, I'd be extremely glad to find out anything about that track. Thanks very much... =))

it does sound like a badass instrumental version of "Dem Man" by Giggs feat. Kano. maybe Eno got inspired by that. then again, maybe it is a completely other song.

As per your suggestion, I checked out the song on YouTube, and while it has a slight similarity to that music we've been mentioning, it's too slow and - oddly enough - not as heavy as that music was. So, it's probably Eno score, after all. Still, thank you very much for replying and proffering a plausible suggestion. I very much appreciate it. =))

Proper gritty urban drama, superbly filmed with a great soundtrack too. Does anyone know the name of the Soul Track from episode 1 when they are in business at the crack house. Lyrics are all about the evils of money.

the song you are looking for is "Money i$ king" by Lee Fields & The Expressions.

What is the last track of Ep.4? The track goes from the very last scene to over the credits. Some of the lyrics are 'Tear this city down, tear it down to the groung. I'm gonna raise it up' It's not Charles Bradley - The World (Is Going Up In Flames) as some people have mentioned. This is a similar song but the lyrics are very different.

seriously mate it is Charles Bradley. I just checked the episode again, see/listen for yourself: http://www.videoweed.es/file/47f9d5022713e http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moiUyFQQE-0

It Is NOT Charles Bradley or Lee Fields - you should listen to the lyrics - I have both of these tracks and can compare them both to the episode - not the same lyrics - definitely! But I would dearly like to know - sounds end of 70's era - Valentine Brothers time.

I have been trying to figure it our for months. It is definitely neither Lee Fields or Charles Bradley

It's Charles Bradley- The World is going up in flames.

Does anyone know the intro song to the series when they get their gear robbed?

oh my god- im soo lucky,a main character from top boy is coming 2 my school tommorow to judge our easter bonnet competition!i know it sounds cheesy but its true!!!!!!!

Well, I'm from the states, California to be exact. I love this show in the sense that it does not depict the reality of British ghettos; it depicts the imagination within who call these people's homes. Even though I am not from Europe in all television is supposed to be entertaining and I for one think every character should not to be viewed as a reality of society but they should be seen as our perception of reality. The movie Act of Valor is a reality to all my friends and every other teenager in America about navy seals and OSAMA BINLADAN's assassination. Is it fair to say that American navy seals can be glorified in a movie where no concerns from citizens are raised. Are the people in my country suppose to think of our heros as typical big white males, and do middle eastern people drill nails through our agents?? I'm just saying from point of view this series that took a lot of time an effort to out together is not being given a fair chance. We glorify ours, not in a bad way though; and that British ghetto imagination an cretative thinking is diminished...

intro song Ghost poet- finished i aint

season 1 episode 4 @ 50:43. What is the name of that song? It is Not Charles Bradley. I have been looking and can not find that song. PLEASE HELP

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