The powerful memoir, “I Am Urban”, explores the story of lost children in Leeds with a playful tone.


You appear to be a pleasant person, so I will give you some advice. Do not trust my mother – she will ruin your life.” This is a warning from young troublemaker Urban (Fraser Kelly) to Chop (Richard Armitage), who has moved in with the former’s party-loving mother Greta (Anna Friel). Based on Bernard Hare’s 2005 memoir Urban Grimshaw and the Shed Crew, receiving life lessons from 11-year-olds is typical in a chaotic world of absent parents, unsupervised children, and rampant substance abuse. Originally filmed in 2015 and possibly re-edited since then, the movie suffers from a fatal lack of perspective – never quite sure whose story it is and what insights to offer on the dysfunctional lives portrayed.

Urban was born in jail and, sent to live with his other five siblings, has little contact with Greta. However, when we first encounter him in the mid-1990s, he is fully committed to a life of carefree wandering and petty theft around the neighborhoods and brick houses of Leeds. A glimmer of hope appears when Chop, a former social worker, enters his life. Impressed by Urban’s intelligence and resourcefulness, Chop tries to help Greta regain custody of him. He takes Urban camping in Scotland and becomes close with the “Shed Crew,” a group of other young people who have also escaped chaotic home lives and gather in a makeshift den in a wasteland.

The actors in the lead roles are all dedicated, with Kelly displaying an intense maturity, Friel overflowing with determined energy, and Armitage – known for his role as Thorin Oakenshield in “The Hobbit” – using his inherent nobility effectively. (He is also able to make swearing sound honorable, much like Sean Bean.) However, the character of Chop, whose reasons for wanting to be around this group of misfits are not well-defined, is mainly seen as a superficial symbol of goodness in this tough setting.

Instead of painting a harsh picture of poverty through well-developed characters, director Candida Brady opts for sudden shifts in tone that come off as sentimental. The majority of the reckless behavior, violence, and drug use among different generations is portrayed as playful, with exaggerated music to drive home the “northern-glory” theme. In one scene, when Chop investigates a shed, a ballad plays in the background, singing: “This is our home, this is our place / It may seem nothing special…” (A far cry from the biting use of “Perfect Day” in Trainspotting.) This sense of complacency ultimately weakens the impact of this self-indulgent drama on the issues of poverty and modern Britain.


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