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© Alastair Muir/REX/Shutterstock
© Alastair Muir/REX/Shutterstock
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'Been So Long' Movie Musical Toplines Michaela Coel, Joe Dempsie, and George MacKay

Picture of Graham Fuller
Film Editor
Updated: 16 March 2017
The film of Ché Walker’s Been So Long is now being shot on the streets of Camden. Tinge Krishnan is directing Walker’s own adaptation of her funk-soul musical, which was a hit at the Old Vic Theatre.

Been So Long will star Michaela Coel, the actress-poet and writer and co-star of Channel 4’s BAFTA-winning sitcom Chewing Gum. She’s been joined in the cast by Skins and Game of Thrones’ Joe Dempsie and George MacKay of Captain Fantastic.

Michaela Coel | Photo by Jonathan Hordle/REX/Shutterstock
Michaela Coel | Photo by Jonathan Hordle/REX/Shutterstock

The project was developed by the British Film Institute and will be co-financed by Film4. Lizzie Francke will serve as executive producer for the BFI and Eva Yates for Film4, Screen Daily reported today.

Director Krishnan, who graduated with a BA in Medicine, studied film at New York University. After her film Shadowscan won the BAFTA for Best Short, she made the half-hour drama The Circle for Channel 4. Her 2011 feature debut Junkhearts, which won the top prize at the Moscow International Film Festival, starred Eddie Marsan as an alcoholic ex-soldier suffering from PTSD whose life is threatened after he befriends a teen runaway (played by Candese Reid).

Actor and musician Arthur Darvill wrote the tunes and lyrics for Been So Long, which Walker originated as a play in 1998. It opened at the Young Vic on July 11, 2009, and transferred to the Traverse Theatre as part of the Edinburgh Festival that August.

It’s a crackling, neon-lit, street-smart tale of love and desire being rekindled in a sleek Camden watering hole that’s facing closure. The main characters are cautious single mom Simone, her sexually aggressive friend Yvonne, nerdy Gil, tender hunk Raymond, and lovelorn barman Barney.

British screen musicals are so rare that the announcement of a new one prompts the question, will it be London’s answer to La La Land or another Absolute Beginners?

It’s a rhetorical question, of course. The British Film Institute and Film 4, which is bankrolling Been So Long, may or may not have their eyes on the success of Damien Chazelle’s hit, but the failure of Absolute Beginners in 1986 won’t be a concern. To start with, Been So Long already has a proven track record on the boards, whereas Julien Temple’s film of Colin MacInnes’ novel came out of the blue.

Patsy Kensit and Eddie O’Connell in ‘Absolute Beginners’ | © Palace Pictures

Set amid the Soho coffee bar scene of the late 1950s, Absolute Beginners didn’t relate to mid-1980s youth culture during the Margaret Thatcher years, except in its incorporation of the 1958 Notting Hill race riots. Its leads, Eddie O’Connell and Patsy Kensit, were miscast and its script was a mess. Over-budgeted and critically mauled, it is regarded—along with Revolution and The Mission—as one of the films that brought down the British flagship company Goldcrest, one of its investors. At least David Bowie got a hit out of it with the title song.

Certainly, Absolute Beginners took some of the glow off the burgeoning New British Cinema of the time. Given the energy of the stage version, Been So Long has the potential to give Brit cinema a brand new glow.