Apparently, it’s not grim up north after all. If Ken Loach had ever overdosed on laughing gas there’s a chance he might have brainstormed this wickedly funny comedy that comes straight from the heart of multicultural Britain. The title’s a nod to the ancient tradition of Mischief Night, a pre-Guy Fawkes, post-Halloween evening of Tricking without the Treating, when naughty nippers get to run riot with what amounts to a Get Out Of Jail Free card. We’re talking cars coated in eggs and clingfilm, flour bombs and burning dog turds left on doorsteps... But in this bright and breezy flick from writer/director Penny Woolcock (Tina Goes Shopping) there’s also the promise of something more rejuvenating.
Nine parts East Is East crowd-pleaser to one part Loachian drama, Mischief Night flaunts its defiantly non-PC streak. Set on a Beeston estate divided between whites and Asians, the multi-stranded plot plays on the shortfall realities of Blair’s Britain: doddery old grannies deal drugs, Bash Street kids prove old beyond their years (“My mum’s a smackhead!”; “My mum’s a dinner lady!”) and hoodie-slouching Asian pre-teens abuse passing elders: “Why don’t you go back to Pakistan and wipe yer arse with a stone?”
Don’t expect to see a floppy-haired Hugh Grant hanging out here. A world (and roughly three hours on the M1) away from the Luvvie Actually backslapping of Richard Curtis and co, this is no frills stuff, shot cheap’n’cheerful and with as much colour and verve as a Bollywood movie minus the musical numbers.
Yet in 90 minutes it manages to say more about the hopes and fears of modern, multicultural Britain than any amount of patronising, Westminster soapbox-clambering. To that end, it even tackles religious extremism, as the local mosque is taken over by a crazed, eyepatch-wearing Imam convinced that Bart Simpson is Satan’s emissary on Earth and partial to screening Al-Qaeda propaganda to wide-eyed kids (“Jihad video!”).
Like the night of mischief it’s named after, this evocative urban fairytale turns our preconceptions on their head and shows how things could (ought) to be. It even plays out with a Hindi cover of ‘I Will Survive’. You’ll find yourself wanting to sing along. In whatever language.