The 2006 film City of Tiny Lights, starring Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) and Billie Piper (Doctor Who, Secret Diary of a Call Girl) is now on BBC iPlayer, following its airing on BBC Two. The 2016 film, based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Neate, was the first major project of local actor Reiss Kershei.
A slab of classic British crime, exploring both the dark underbelly of the city of London and the experience of being a second-generation immigrant there, City of Tiny Lights follows private detective Tommy Akhtar (Riz Ahmed), investigating the case of a missing Russian prostitute, a case which blossoms into something of a much larger-scale. Kershei stars in the film as a younger Tommy, bringing his teenage years to life through a series of vibrant flashbacks.
“Being on set honestly felt like I was finally at home” said the young actor, saying it was “a crazy way to start my career,” and “very surreal.”
While the film’s plot is largely tied to grand politically-tinged events involving drugs, Islamic extremism and the American feds, the flashbacks, and Kershei’s role in them as a younger Tommy, are the emotional backbone of the film. Starring opposite Hannah Rae (Broadchurch) who plays a younger version of Piper’s character, Kershei brings greater vulnerability to the role than Ahmed’s classicly blustering-yet-sensitive detective. The film’s flashbacks explore an escalating teen drama, the culmination of which shaped much of Tommy’s life today and changed the way he is in the present.
“I think the biggest difference between the younger and older Tommy is the altering event which changes him as a person,” says Kershei about the role. “I tried to convey this by essentially ignoring that event until the actual scene when it was shot and thus being able to retain that vulnerability.”
The event in question has all the melodramatic emotional extremity of teen drama; it helps to contrast with the grittier, more political main plot, as well as showcasing how the child (or in this case, the teenager) shapes the man.
The film, whilst corny at times, is an exhilarating, dynamic and excellently shot crime thriller with a great cast, and a perfect way to start one’s career. I would recommend checking it out in iPlayer before lockdown ends if you haven’t already.