This innovative musical love story set against a gangland fantasy takes place in a slightly warped futuristic version of north London, now a dangerous and lawless city which has been divided between the ghettos of “Blackshacks” and the salubrious suburbs of “White Heights”.
A streetwise black taxi driver called Smiley (American actor Ricco Ross) becomes caught up in a Mafia vendetta when he visits his father (Tommy Eytle) in a mental home and is coerced into helping pretty white girl Dominique Renoir (Joely Richardson, daughter of Vanessa Redgrave) to escape.
Turns out she has been imprisoned there by her ex-boyfriend, a powerful gangster named Tony Zulu (Vincent Riotta).
Dominique and Smiley try to track down an ageing hood called Herbert the Herbert (Harry Fowler), who holds the evidence they need to destroy the Zulu empire.
Neither of them suspects that Mr Zulu has already set the vicious but hapless Peter (Christopher Fulford) and Paul (Timothy Spall) – known as The Apostles of Grief – on Dominique’s trail. The Cannon and Ball of hitmen leave a trail of mindless destruction in their wake as they fail to get anything right.
A militant black community led by Main Man (Tony Hippolyte) rise to their defence, and civil war breaks out.
Tony Zulu’s manipulative mother is played by Miriam Margolyes, while Dickie Finn (Jack Shepherd) dresses like the Devil’s idea of a good priest and runs his mammoth crooked business from a church guarded by a machine gun-toting father. His escape aboard a hang glider, scarlet ceremonial robes flapping in the wind, has to be seen to be believed.
The music was composed by 10cc guitarist Rick Fenn.
The film – written by actor-turned-screenwriter Lee Drysdale and directed by Bernard Rose – was originally intended as a co-production with independent funding aimed at a cinema release. But when the investors pulled out, the BBC stepped in with the necessary funding.
Nervous BBC executives withdrew the film from the Edinburgh Film Festival in an effort not to offend in the wake of the Hungerford massacre. They also postponed the planned screening on BBC 1 on 20 September.
The film finally went to air on Sunday 6 December.
Herbert the Herbert