Writer: David Isaac, Jason Wingard
Director: Jason Wingard
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Representations of inter-racial families on screen are still few and far between, and while this was much more common in the 1980s, the last 30-years has felt like a step backwards in terms of the image of the Britain we all really know. And where those experiences do exist, they largely focus on a couple’s struggle to be together in the face of family or societal opposition. The refreshing Eaten by Lions changes all that by focusing on the story of two brothers navigating life after a family tragedy.
With both parents previously eaten by the titular lions and their beloved grandmother recently passed away, Omar and Pete are taken to live with their aunt who barely contains her disapproval for Omar. Finding his father’s contact details among his grandmother’s things, Omar (Antonio Aakeel) sets off to Blackpool with half-brother Pete (Jack Carroll) in toe, determined to find out who he really is and where he can finally belong.
Despite some potentially large themes about engrained racism and parental abandonment, this sentimental comedy never takes the audience anywhere too gritty or surprising. It bowls along at a fairly gentle pace as the boys encounter one silly scenario after another, from losing their luggage in the sea to borrowing some hideous 1970s-esque clothing from a dodgy B&B landlord played by Johnny Vegas and accidentally dumping the ashes of the grandmother over the edge of the pier.
Often the comedy is big and fairly broad, even the eventual encounters with Omar’s real family, the Choudray’s, have some fairly stereotypical outcomes including a mix-up over who his father really is, a sex-crazed daughter and a joy ride in the patriarch’s beloved Rolls Royce. Yet, there is a charm in Eaten by Lions that continues to amuse, a cosy Britishness to the humour that despite its obvious signalling remains enjoyable.
Much of this is in the character-driven nature of the brother’s relationship whose support for each other is sweet and affecting. Their determination never to be separated and devotion to one another allows the audience to invest in their journey while forgiving some of the plot’s more mundane developments. And it’s nice to see two young actors still able to carry a film peopled by more experienced stars including Asim Chaudry and Nitin Ganatra, while reflecting the complexity of modern families.
If Eaten by Lionshas a concerning note it is the unexplained loathing and hostility with which Omar is treated by his aunt Ellen (Vicky Pepperdine) who refuses to give him a bedroom. Forced to sleep in a cupboard under the stairs like Harry Potter while hearing about the adoption of his brother Robert, there is a level of cruelty towards a child that fits uneasily into the film’s light tone. Clearly, Omar is another man’s son, but the racism at the root of Ellen’s behaviour isn’t properly explored, leaving a bitter taste.
Jason Wingaard’s film – essentially a small-scale road movie – is sweet, silly and shored-up by layered performances from Aakeel and Carroll as the dedicated siblings dealing with their grief and finding the support they need. As a portrait of multiracial Britain, it has much to offer and while its storyline may not surprise, its sentiment might just win you over.
Release Date: 29 March 2019 | Image: Contributed