Blue (Brinsley Forde) lives in London, around the Brixton area, where many West Indians now reside though not always welcomed by the white population. Just out of school, Blue has a job as a mechanic, but the only good thing about it is that he gets paid, as his boss (Mel Smith) takes advantage of him and makes him toil for too many hours for too little pay, so it's no wonder that Blue is increasingly reluctant to show up on time. If he had a choice, he would make music his career, and he follows around a group of friends who have their own sound system, but trouble is starting to follow the young man...
Babylon was released at a time when hardly any films were being made about the British black experience, although it did have precedents with such works as Pressure and Black Joy speaking to the same audience, but it was this which garnered the biggest following, in spite of being hard to see for a long while. It threatens towards the shapeless in its plotting, preferring to immerse the viewer in the sights and sounds of Brixton circa 1980, with an almost documentary-like atmosphere as it shows not only Blue but his other acquaintances, not sugar-coating the message that there was about to be some kind of eruption in this community thanks to the racism in British society of the day.
The pioneering of Babylon paved the way for the remergence of other British films on similar subjects, worthy efforts like The Plague and Kidulthood, so with that in mind it's genuinely interesting to see a production which was going to present lives which would be unfamiliar to many audiences back then. Yet it was patently not made with the majority of the white moviegoing public in mind, with its patois often presented without subtitles so those who were not up to speed with the dialect may have been left behind. However, as with one of its other influences, The Harder They Come, this was worth persevering with, as the human story of injustice bringing out the worst in the victims, and to some extent admirable behaviour as well, remained vital and fairly easy to follow for non-initiates.
Forde's Blue may be part of a fine ensemble cast, but for many he would have been one of the most recognisable faces in it, thanks to a generation of U.K. kids growing up watching him on The Double Deckers, which was a million miles away in tone from the drama here. He had gone on to some success with his reggae band Aswad, and further musical success awaited him in the eighties and nineties, but although he was one of the standouts in Babylon, if you've seen enough British television then you'll probably be familiar with some of the actors making early appearances here, with sitcom star Karl Howman as the tokenistic nice white guy, and Trevor Laird, memorably playing the volatile Beefy - he later showed up in Doctor Who in both its incarnations.
If as a story this leans towards the anecdotal, then some of those episodes stick in the mind, probably most worrying the scene where Blue, walking home after dark, is chased by a group of white men who eventually catch him and beat him up - revealing themselves to be the police, and actually bringing him in on a jumped up charge. Earlier there have been lighter moments, such as Beefy showing off his new dog which is too fat to really be impressive to his mates, but after a while the graver material takes over, with the racists bringing everyone down and building up to the denouement which sees Blue on the run after lashing out in revenge. If this is a little contrived and loses its way in reaching for a solution to wrapping things up, then the rest makes up for it, with the music playing a major part - Forde's Aswad providing a fair amount. If nothing else, Babylon had excellent historical value.