The Kitchen, a film by Kibwe Tavares and Daniel Kaluuya, is set in a not-so-distant London where the power of privatisation threatens to smash the sole remaining independent area.
In this complicated, appealing worldview, community is an enormously potent force against oppression. Gentrification has essentially won. Police violence secures triumph. However, there is one last bastion of resistance: The Kitchen, a district on the Thames’s south bank where residents remain firmly rooted in their homes.
Kaluuya not only made his directorial debut with The Kitchen, but he also co-wrote the script with Joe Murtagh (The Woman in the Wall, Calm with Horses), blending social realism and sci-fi elements and delving into social politics, inequality, grief, and family through protagonists Izi (Top Boy star Kane Robinson) and Benji.
The Kitchen is a harsh, heartbreaking prognosis for a capitalist future that gradually eliminates individualism, serving as a cautionary tale and allegory for where cities like London are headed. It’s more of a grim premonition than a fantasy hypothetical, and it doesn’t feel out of this world. And, while the film is set in London, the marketing tagline reminds us that “Every city has its kitchen.”
Tavares and Kaluuya, who both grew up in London, describe the film as “a love letter to our city.” The Kitchen, located in the heart of England’s capital, capitalises on the city’s Brutalist, monochromatic architecture to create a futuristic atmosphere (albeit the outside is actually the Damiers de Dauphiné in Paris). The film is purposely dateless, but it feels near enough to the present to make you uncomfortable. In this scenario, the wealth gap has expanded into a canyon. The skyline is dominated by utilitarian but luxurious private projects; social housing has been almost completely removed, forcing residents onto long waitlists for pricey, cookie-cutter apartments with no alternatives.
Resources are scarce in The Kitchen, reserved instead for these affluent projects, and savage police raids on this so-called “privately owned property” are ongoing — all watched by a fleet of flying police drones. Despite its busy marketplace of neon lights, food establishments, and scaffolding, The Kitchen maintains a stronghold of resistance, organically retaining a sense of humanity, self-expression, and creativity as the rest of the homogeneous, sterile metropolis attempts to swallow it up.
Izi is working hard at a funeral home in the hopes of one day leaving The Kitchen when he meets 12-year-old Benji, who is grieving his mother and struggling to find a sense of family. In a milder part than his famous Top Boy run, Robinson imbues Izi with a sense of solitary purpose, shaken only by his newfound bond with the stoic but occasionally mischievous Benji, performed flawlessly by newcomer Bannerman. Robinson and Bannerman’s chemistry evolves organically; according to Rolling Stone, the film was shot chronologically, which aided this gradual process, and Kaluuya encouraged as much improvisation as possible from his stars. Benji and Izi form an unbreakable friendship despite the continual fear of raids and Benji’s attraction to a younger, more politically engaged crew lead by Stapes (Top Boy’s Hope Ikpoku Jnr).
Technology in The Kitchen isn’t all hoverboards and dramatic sci-fi; it’s more quietly integrated into the city, whether through holographic shop signage, AR barber shop tools, or smart mirrors that display your emails and health vitals. This isn’t Blade Runner. However, like to Blade Runner, fancy tech in this future London is mostly used for two purposes: advertising and harsh, targeted enforcement. Police drones fly about the skyline, keeping an eye on the occupants of The Kitchen – but they’re no match for Staples’ crew’s catapault.
While technological advancements are woven into the residents’ homes and businesses, it is older forms of technology that define the neighborhood’s sense of community, from an underground roller disco to Lord Kitchener’s vinyl-fueled pirate radio broadcasts (more on those later). However, unlike in other future dramas, such as Ben Wheatley’s 2015 adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, the inhabitants of The Kitchen community do not rip each other apart; rather, they are unified in their fight to stay in their home, no matter how decaying it is.
Notably, unlike the majority of dystopian films, The Kitchen focuses on the Black experience in the near future; the largely Black area of The Kitchen is frequently raided by aggressive, white police squads who brutally pull people from their houses. It is a rarity in the genre, with only a few films, such as the satirical Sorry to Bother You, foregrounding and anticipating future circumstances for Black characters based on our current reality.
Though the central plot of The Kitchen revolves around Benji’s adolescent grief and Izi’s sudden sense of paternal responsibility, the film is mostly a hymn to joy and resilience in the face of persistent dehumanisation.