Closing this year’s London Film Festival, The Kitchen is a remarkable portrayal of gentrification in a futuristic, dystopian London, but one that is eerily accurate to the capital’s current state.
With The Kitchen, the spectacular rise of Daniel Kaluuya continues. From his early television work in Skins (2007) to his unforgettable role in Get Out (2017) and his Oscar-winning performance in Judas and the Black Messiah (2021), Kaluuya’s acting talent has always been clear for audiences to see. Fewer people will be aware of his screenwriting talent though, but it’s notable that even as a teenager, he was a writer on Skins. With the arrival of The Kitchen, however, Kaluuya’s aptitude behind the camera is just as obvious as his skills in front of it. Co-written with Joe Murtagh (Calm With Horses) and co-directed with Kibwe Tavares, this spectacular snapshot of gentrification is unafraid, honest, and told without sensationalism. It is a must-see.
In a near-future London, the gap between the rich and the poor is gargantuan, with sleek penthouses eradicating all social housing—except for one area. It is The Kitchen, the final such estate remaining in the capital, where different cultures live and flags from countries such as Ghana, Algeria and Scotland dot the cracking tower blocks. The terrific world-building of The Kitchen is apparent from the off (bar some iffy futuristic special effects), with the juxtaposition between the two worlds remarkably realised.
The Kitchen itself is a bright, vibrant place, despite the discrimination and hardships that its citizens face, and is completed by Lord Kitchener’s daily radio show ringing throughout the estate. The initial surprise at seeing former Arsenal striker Ian Wright’s face as the radio jockey wears off quickly, as he delivers a terrific supporting performance. It’s an inspired casting decision that immediately ensures emotional connection; who doesn’t love Wright, a British icon who graces our screens on Match of the Day every Saturday?
In one of the cramped apartments lives Izi (a magnetic Kane Robinson, Top Boy). He grew up on the estate but can’t wait to move to one of the plush apartments outside of it; a better life is promised by the bloodsucking housing company called Buena Vida. For many, The Kitchen is home, but for Izi, it’s simply a “sh*thole”. He eventually strikes up a relationship with youngster Benji (spectacular newcomer Jedaiah Bannerman), who has recently lost his mother.
Izi is gruff and dejected, feelings that are born out of necessity and through experience. The way he (eventually) gravitates to Benji is as much an indication of Izi’s own search for human connection as it is just an adult helping a youngster who is alone. This relationship is the backbone of The Kitchen, a strong bond that drives the film’s heart, and in a more general sense, the heart and soul of The Kitchen is one of its most remarkable traits.
Kaluuya and Murtagh’s vibrant screenplay and the co-direction with Tavares subverts expectations: there is no constant revolution here like Les Misérables (2019) or Athena (2022)—and The Kitchen is all the stronger for it. Kaluuya, Murtagh and Tavares focus on the happiness and unity of The Kitchen just as much as the residents’ anger, if not more so. The co-directors linger on smiles and little touches, scenes of dancing, or simple acts of kindness. It gives The Kitchen a firm emotional base, and also adds even more ignition and dramatic impetus when the acts of rebellion do inevitably occur.
There is some looseness to The Kitchen’s story, and it takes time to move forward, but the events are always engaging. Despite the happiness that we see on screen, the reminder of the authorities’ threat is constant, either through the hovering police drones or the ever-increasing police raids. The Kitchen’s mildly but rightfully ambiguous ending is simply further proof of the assuredness of Kaluuya and Tavares’ directing, both in their feature length debuts, whilst the film’s blistering energy and careful detail reflect their passion and commitment to the important themes being portrayed.
The Kitchen had its World Premiere at the 2023 BFI London Film Festival on October 15 and is coming soon to Netflix. Read our list of 25 movies to watch at the 2023 London Film Festival!