It's 1977, the year of the SIlver Jubilee, and the platform wedgies, the red plastic stoves and even a smattering of fluffy mohair jumpers are all here in vivid day-glo to convey what it must have been like back then to be on the right side of 20, flicking V-signs at Her Majesty courtesy of Messrs. Rotten, Vicious and co. Unlike Sid & Nancy, however, Isaac Julien's low budget Young Soul Rebels - his feature debut and winner of the coveted Special Critics' Prize at this year's Cannes - focuses on the '70s soul scene to describe what it meant at the time to be young, British, but more crucially, black.
For old chums Chris and Caz - promising and exceptionally cute movie debuts for Valentine Nonyela and Mo Sesay respectively - it appears to mean having a funky time spinning vinyl for a pirate black radio station called Soul Patrol, until - and here the plot, aided by some desperately indiscriminate editing, takes a somewhat complicated twist - a fellow Soul Boy is murdered in the local park and Chris takes the rap. Several detours later - into, among others, buddy-buddy territory, racial discrimination, politics, and sexuality of both the hetero and homosexual kind (including one brave but really rather embarrassing scene involving mutual masturbation, cringe-inducingly introduced to the tune of X-ray Spex's Oh Bondage Up Yours) - the whole murky business is finally resolved in appropriately anarchic fashion.
Young Soul Rebels is undoubtedly a bold, stylish effort which certainly has its moments - the music, in particular, is used to superb effect, while Frances Barber is a treat as Chris's joint-puffing Mum - but ultimately suffers from trying to say too many things too fast to too many people, the penalty, one suspects, for working a British film industry where your first film so easily doubles up as your last. As a piece of contemporary anthropology, however, it sure as hell beats watching Travolta dance his socks off in Saturday Night Fever.