Sight and Sound

Essential viewing in the age of austerity

Sean McAllister’s deceptively casual documentary about a warehouse worker bringing hip-hop to kids in Hull reveals uncomfortable truths about inequality in the UK.

The hard facts of social mobility in today’s Britain come into sharp focus in this unassumingly scaled yet hugely encompassing piece of documentary portraiture. Filmmaker Sean McAllister, recently acclaimed for the affecting A Syrian Love Story, returns to home ground for A Northern Soul, having been appointed creative director of the opening ceremony marking his native Hull’s term as 2017 City of Culture. After years of austerity and a divisive Brexit vote, he ponders in an introductory voiceover, might this be the moment to turn the place around after decades of neglect. If so, what are the chances for someone trying to follow in his own footsteps? McAllister left school at 16 and worked in a factory for nine years before taking up a video camera and changing his life. In warehouse worker Steve Arnott, he finds a kindred soul: here’s someone who wants to transform his fortunes – and help others do the same – through the liberating power of hip-hop, but is faced with the suffocating pressures of exactly what it means to be among the UK’s many working poor.

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See the full review by Trevor Johnston on the BFI Sight & Sound website