One of the most interesting events at this weekend's Sundance London festival at the O2 isn't quite a film at all: it's a table read of a new script called Farming by well-established British actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. And he's assembled a stellar cast for the read, including Ashley Walters, Marc Warren, Minnie Driver and David Harewood.
Farming is an autobiographical tale about a young man called Enitan (who Walters will be reading), growing up in 1960s and 1970s Britain. His Nigerian immigrant parents engage in a then-common practice called "farming", fostering their son to a white couple while they work, study and save. But amid a cultural backlash to immigration, Enitan finds himself struggling to create his own identity and falls in with a gang of skinheads. The read-through will also feature Nikki Amuka, Michael Socha, Bronson Webb, Joshua Herdman, Ony Uhiara, Femi Oyeniran and Jonathon Hyde.
Akinnuoye-Agbaje already attended a Sundance Institute Screenwriters & Directors Labs and was awarded an Annenberg Film Fellowship Grant from the Institute for the script, so presenting it here in London but also at a Sundance event seems appropriate.
We asked Akinnuoye-Agbaje about it this morning. "It's pretty autobiographical, he said, "although certain things have been changed for cinematic impact. But I think that's compelling, that that is something that actually happened, that it's one of many stories. It's an inspiring story, even though it took place amid poverty. It happened to children who see the world through innocent eyes, there's no judgment. They just see it as life; there's a real humour. It was traumatic, but while you were in it it was just your life. You don't realise it wasn't normal."
"It celebrates an era, and pays homage to the best things we love about Britain: our culture, our sense of humour, our music, our fashion sense! It does show elements of racism and the frustration in the country at the time."
There's an inevitable comparison to films like This Is England, but Akinnuoye-Agbaje stresses that this is a different beast. "While it's similar in that it has the skinhead sub-culture, it's vastly different in that it has the voice of the immigrant population that never had a voice. So this is really Great Britain. It really encompasses two generations, the parents who came over and my generation who were born here. And it spans three decades, so the scope of Farming is broader in the sense of what it speaks to."
"It's a dream cast for the read-through, the best of British. I've been working on this for nearly 5 years: it's my baby, and this is like sending it off to school for the first day! But I'm really excited to see the response! This is something I think most British people will connect with. There's going to be a lot of nostalgia."
The hope is that this will be a next step towards getting the story onscreen, so watch this space to see if the script gets put into production one day soon.