Serving as the big closer to the BFI London Film Festival for 2023 was the debut of Netflix’s upcoming British dystopian drama The Kitchen from Daniel Kaluuya and Kibwe Tavares. Having managed to nab tickets, here’s my thoughts about what the movie got right and what it got wrong.
The project began its life from humble beginnings with the idea initially conceived in a barbershop many years ago with Daniel Kalyuuya, Kibwe Tavares, and Daniel Emerson, each chucking in £200 each to create a taster tape before many years passed and Netflix and Film4 giving the movie a greenlight.
The movie is set in the near-distant future of London when the current housing crisis that plagues Britain has spiraled with more highrises than ever, but gentrification and affordability become a huge problem. That’s where The Kitchen comes in, a Soviet-era styled building that houses thousands but those residents are there illegally.
The plot revolves around Izi (played by Kane Robinson), a loner who lives in The Kitchen but doesn’t have much regard or respect for the community that lives and thrives there, oftentimes referring to it as a “shithole.” Working a mundane job at a high-tech funeral home, he hopes to gather enough to move out and into a newer single-occupancy apartment. He’s desperate to move out, with constant raids from faceless police officers that threaten arrest and beatings in addition to all basic supplies being cut off.
His clear plans are muddied when a young boy called Benji (played by newcomer Jedaiah Bannerman) enters his life after he attends his mother’s funeral. The boy, now without any parental guidance, is searching for his father, who he’s been told lives in The Kitchen.
Reluctantly, Izi gives Benji guidance at arm’s length throughout but is still hesitant to fully commit and confess he’s the boy’s father because it would derail his plans of finally getting out. Meanwhile, Benji gets loosely entangled with one of the gangs known for robbing delivery trucks or smashing high street stores.
The CG, when it is on display, is absolutely fantastic. London’s transformed skyline looks recognizable enough to be familiar but changed enough to see that many years have passed from the present. Other tidbits of the future are scattered throughout, whether that’s hologram advertisements of the bustling commerce section of The Kitchen or the buzzing of police drones monitoring the building.
The issue with the futuristic setting is that the story doesn’t do enough with its time period to warrant being set all these years in the future and would’ve been just as effective, if not more so if set in the present day.
Ian Wright surprisingly played a much more pivotal role throughout than originally thought. Serving as the announcer, DJ, and, to an extent, the spiritual leader of The Kitchen. He helped bridge the gaps between scenes with his quips, inspirational messages, and well-suited soundtrack. The issue, however, is that towards the end, his role developed into one of the main reasons for Izi’s change of heart to return to The Kitchen for Benji.
Given that Wright’s character is isolated throughout much of the film, this didn’t have quite the impact the movie hoped. It’s a shame that we didn’t see Wright have more screen time interacting with the residents and providing the glue that binds the community of The Kitchen that would’ve made the final raid justified and hard-hitting.
Sadly, that subplot and a few others just don’t quite weave a thorough enough narrative with a few setups never really coming to a satisfying payoff or resolve.
The Kitchen often times flirts with being a modern-day British classic, but sadly, its inability to stick to various landings without getting bogged down by itself and becoming repetitive stops it short of being excellent despite its impressive cast and excellent visuals.
Netflix has still yet to officially announce when The Kitchen will be released on Netflix globally. It was expected to arrive at some point in late 2023, but now it’s expected it won’t be until early 2024.