Rye Lane is a film that feels like falling in love; it electrifies the air around you and spreads infectious feel-goodness. The Black British romantic comedy directed by Raine Allen-Miller hit cinemas on 17th March with a burst of magic, romance and culture that leaves you feeling like there is light that still exists amidst the greyness that is the UK in 2023.
In a time where it feels near impossible to travel, rent, or even purchase oxtail, this charming South London romance reminds you of why we cling so hard to this city in the first place. The writing, visual style, and performances blend harmoniously to inspire something deep within.
Rye Lane is about two Black twenty-somethings reeling from bad breakups, who connect over an eventful day in South London — helping restore their faith in romance in the process. Yas (Vivian Oparah) and Dom’s (David Jonsson) dedication to spontaneity and adventure is a refreshing take on dating in a time where we swipe endlessly on apps and debates about who should pay for the bill circulate on Twitter every week. Filled with sweet little cultural colloquialisms and easter eggs just for those who live in the area, whilst overarched with universal themes, Rye Lane is truly a film for everyone.
I actually saw the film at Peckham’s very own Peckhamplex cinema on opening night to a sold-out screening. Hundreds lined up to get into the cinema complex based on the actual Rye Lane, where London native and the film’s star, Vivian Oparah, was also in attendance. The screening was filled with an energy and spark that was almost palpable. Cheers, laughter and exclamations were in abundance. Every single joke landed! It felt surreal watching the main characters in Peckhamplex whilst watching the film inside of Peckhamplex. The film closed to a standing ovation which intensified when Vivian stood up as her name rolled down the credits. It was an extraordinary experience that elevated the viewing experience entirely. If you can see the film in cinemas, please do.
For years, South London has been talked about as a place to fear, and it has always felt like only people from South understand how great it is. But now, hopefully, everybody can see what we see.
Screenwriters Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia created a very heartfelt story with characters that feel simultaneously real and dreamlike. I interpreted this as a call to action for people to be a bit more like Yas and Dom and embrace adventure, fantasy and vulnerability. Vivian brings an energetic, vivacious, star-like quality to Yas and Jonsson a soft, comedic charm to Dom. In fact, Dom’s emotional openness was extremely refreshing to watch, especially when Black British men in film and television are rarely written and explored that way. Yas’ open-mindedness and receptiveness to new experiences subvert many stereotypical portrayals of Black British women in UK films and TV—especially darker-skinned women—where they often have little character development or are sidelined. It is also refreshing to see a female character take the initiative within a dating context. In creating characters who counteract common Black tropes without erasing their Blackness, Rye Lane's talented writers have made great strides towards improving Black British representation within the UK film industry. And of course, this couldn’t have been done without the incredible performances of David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah.
Allen-Miller’s unique and eccentric visual style perfectly underscores the energetic tone of the film. With a distorting fish eye, creative cutaway gags and vibrant colours, there is an idiosyncrasy to the film that is both charming and fresh. As a South Londoner, it’s nice to see the places I’ve frequented throughout my life such as Rye Lane, Brixton Village and Brockwell Park depicted with such beauty and vibrance. Despite its recent and continued gentrification, Peckham and many of the other filming locations hold such a weighted stigma. For years, South London has been talked about as a place to fear, and it has always felt like only people from South understand how great it is. But now, hopefully, everybody can see what we see. Furthermore, a lot of romantic comedies tend to associate romance with luxury and wealth (from Crazy Rich Asians to British classics like Notting Hill) but as Rye Lane illustrates beautifully, you don’t need to have money to fall in love. This is an important moment in UK cinema as it really demonstrates that rom-coms can be set in working-class areas and still be romantic.
Whilst being different, I really adore the film’s homages to its genre, with a cameo from rom-com-veteran Colin Firth working at “Love Guac’tually” and a woman in her front garden dressed as a Bridget Jones. My favourite and perhaps the most feel-good moment of the film is the final act’s grand gesture when Yas gets on a boat. These classic romantic comedy tropes are so exciting to see in Black. It’s so rare for us to have that, especially for Black Brits.
I couldn't recommend that people see this film more. Rye Lane is a very important moment for Black British cinema and general UK cinema moving forward. Seeing how people have really supported this film from announcement through to release has shown that there is not only room for us, there is a demand for us. It is the perfect project to propel forward a new era of film that unifies, subverts, and isn’t afraid to be different. I really believe this film will pave the way for many more Black UK projects to come.